Assessing net-uptake of nitrate and natural dissolved organic matter fractions in a revitalized lowland stream reach
Lowland streams are often revitalized by hydrologically reconnecting their surrounding terrestrial environment, which likely alters central ecosystem functions such as autotrophic and heterotrophic carbon and nutrient metabolism. However, such central ecosystem functions of stream reaches following revitalization have rarely been investigated. Here, we measured net-uptake of nitrate and of various dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) fractions (using size-exclusion chromatography, SEC), as well as fluorescence components (established by parallel factor analysis, PARAFAC) repeatedly along a revitalized 1.4 km reach of a Danish lowland stream during base flow conditions. Samples were taken at six stations every three hours for one day. We measured discharge at five of the six stations to calculate whole-stream net-uptake. Moreover, we continuously measured oxygen at the start and at the end of the reach to assess stream metabolism, and took piezometer samples from ten shallow groundwater sites to assess potential determinants of organic matter and nitrate metabolism. We found high metabolic activity within the stream reach with a gross-primary production of 4.8 and 3.6 g O2 m−2 day−1 and a production to respiration ratio of 0.8 and 0.9 at the start and end of the reach, respectively. Nitrate exhibited relatively constant high net-uptake rates of 0.41–0.52 g N m−2 d−1, which varied little and were not related to the time of the day. Therefore, autotrophic nitrate uptake for was likely of minor importance, despite the apparently high primary production. In contrast, SEC DON and DOC fractions, as well as PARAFAC components did not suggest net-uptake or release. Instead, DOC and DON concentration were highly variable among the six stations and sampling times, a pattern that was not explainable by measurement errors but was likely related to the high variability of DOC and DON concentrations in the hyporheic zone and adjacent groundwater bodies. This pointed to a potentially high interaction with the hyporheic and riparian zone, underlining the strong linkage of DOM-related processes across the terrestrial-aquatic boundary. The high nitrate uptake points to the high retention potential of revitalized stream reaches, which, however, would need to be corroborated by further studies with reference reaches.
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