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Balancing macronutrient stoichiometry to alleviate eutrophication

Stutter, M. I., Graeber, D., Evans, C. D., Wade, A. J. and Withers, P. J. A. (2018) Balancing macronutrient stoichiometry to alleviate eutrophication. Science of the Total Environment, 634. pp. 439-447. ISSN 0048-9697

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.298


Reactive nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) inputs to surface waters modify aquatic environments and affect public health and recreation. Until now, source control is the dominating measure of eutrophication management, and biological regulation of nutrients is largely neglected, although aquatic microbial organisms have huge potential to process nutrients. The stoichiometric ratio of organic carbon (OC) to N to P atoms should modulate heterotrophic pathways of aquatic nutrient processing, as high OC availability favours aquatic microbial processing. Such microbial processing removes N by denitrification and captures N and P as organically-complexed, less eutrophying forms. With a global data synthesis, we show that the atomic ratios of bioavailable dissolved OC to either N or P in rivers with urban and agricultural land use are often distant from a ‘microbial optimum’. This OC-deficiency relative to high availabilities of N and P likely overwhelms within-river heterotrophic processing and we propose that the capability of streams and rivers to retain N and P may be improved by active stoichiometric rebalancing. This rebalancing should be done by reconnecting appropriate OC sources such as wetlands and riparian forests, many of which have become disconnected from rivers concurrent to the progress of agriculture and urbanization. However, key knowledge gaps leave questions in the safe implementation of this approach in management: Mechanistic research is required to (i) evaluate system responses to catchment inputs of dissolved OC forms and amounts relative to internal-cycling controls of dissolved OC from aquatic production and particulate OC from aquatic and terrestrial sources and (ii) evaluate risk factors in anoxia-mediated P desorption with elevated OC scenarios. Still, we find this to be an approach with high potential for river management and we recommend to evaluate this stoichiometric approach for alleviating eutrophication, improving water quality and aquatic ecosystem health.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
ID Code:76706


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