Role of external inputs of nutrients to aquatic ecosystems in determining prevalence of nitrogen vs. phosphorus limitation of net primary productivity
Howarth, Robert W.
Swaney, Dennis P.
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KeywordNutrient limitation; Nitrogen limitation; Phosphorus limitation; Aquatic ecosystems; Estuaries; Coastal marine ecosystems; Redfield ratio; NANI; NAPI; Nutrient stoichiometry
Whether net primary productivity in an aquatic ecosystem is limited by nitrogen (N), limited by phosphorus (P), or co-limited by N & P is determined by the relative supply of N and P to phytoplankton compared to their elemental requirements for primary production, often characterized by the “Redfield” ratio. The supply of these essential nutrients is affected by both external inputs and biogeochemical processes within the ecosystem. In this paper, we examine external sources of nutrients to aquatic systems and how the balance of N to P inputs influences nutrient limitation. For ocean subtropical gyres, a relatively balanced input of N and P relative to the Redfield ratio from deep ocean sources often leads to near co-limitation by N and P. For lakes, the external nutrient inputs come largely from watershed sources, and we demonstrate that on average the N:P ratio for these inputs across the United States is well above that needed by phytoplankton, which may contribute to P limitation in those lake that experience this average nutrient loading. Watershed inputs are also important for estuaries and coastal marine ecosystems, but ocean sources of nutrients are also significant contributors to overall nutrient loads. The ocean-nutrient sources of N and P are very often at or below the Redfield ratio of 16:1 molar, and can be substantially so, particularly in areas where the continental shelf is wide. This large input of coastal ocean nutrients with a low N:P ratio is one factor that may make N limitation more likely in many coastal marine ecosystems than in lakes.
© The Author(s), 2021. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Howarth, R. W., Chan, F., Swaney, D. P., Marino, R. M., & Hayn, M. Role of external inputs of nutrients to aquatic ecosystems in determining prevalence of nitrogen vs. phosphorus limitation of net primary productivity. Biogeochemistry, (2021), https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-021-00765-z.
Suggested CitationHowarth, R. W., Chan, F., Swaney, D. P., Marino, R. M., & Hayn, M. (2021). Role of external inputs of nutrients to aquatic ecosystems in determining prevalence of nitrogen vs. phosphorus limitation of net primary productivity. Biogeochemistry.
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