The productivity of aquatic ecosystems depends on the supply of limiting nutrients. The invasion of the Laurentian Great Lakes, the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, by dreissenid (zebra and quagga) mussels has dramatically altered the ecology of these lakes. A key open question is how dreissenids affect the cycling of phosphorus (P), the nutrient that limits productivity in the Great Lakes. We show that a single species, the quagga mussel, is now the primary regulator of P cycling in the lower four Great Lakes. By virtue of their enormous biomass, quagga mussels sequester large quantities of P in their tissues and dramatically intensify benthic P exchanges. Mass balance analysis reveals a previously unrecognized sensitivity of the Great Lakes ecosystem, where P availability is now regulated by the dynamics of mussel populations while the role of the external inputs of phosphorus is suppressed. Our results show that a single invasive species can have dramatic consequences for geochemical cycles even in the world’s largest aquatic ecosystems. The ongoing spread of dreissenids across a multitude of lakes in North America and Europe is likely to affect carbon and nutrient cycling in these systems for many decades, with important implications for water quality management.
Role of external inputs of nutrients to aquatic ecosystems in determining prevalence of nitrogen vs. phosphorus limitation of net primary productivity
Abstract 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 more »
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