We used a recently published, open‐access data set of U.S. streamwater nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations to test whether watershed land use differentially influences N and P concentrations, including the relative availability of dissolved and particulate nutrient fractions. We tested the hypothesis that N and P concentrations and molar ratios in streams and rivers of the United States reflect differing nutrient inputs from three dominant land‐use types (agricultural, urban and forested). We also tested for differences between dissolved inorganic nutrients and suspended particulate nutrient fractions to infer sources and potential processing mechanisms across spatial and temporal scales. Observed total N and P concentrations often exceeded reported thresholds for structural changes to benthic algae (58, 57% of reported values, respectively), macroinvertebrates (39% for TN and TP), and fish (41, 37%, respectively). The majority of dissolved N and P concentrations exceeded threshold concentrations known to stimulate benthic algal growth (85, 87%, respectively), and organic matter breakdown rates (94, 58%, respectively). Concentrations of both N and P, and total and dissolved N:P ratios, were higher in streams and rivers with more agricultural and urban than forested land cover. The pattern of elevated nutrient concentrations with agricultural and urban land use was weaker for particulate fractions. The % N contained in particles decreased slightly with higher agriculture and urbanization, whereas % P in particles was unrelated to land use. Particulate N:P was relatively constant (interquartile range = 2–7) and independent of variation in DIN:DIP (interquartile range = 22–152). Dissolved, but not particulate, N:P ratios were temporally variable. Constant particulate N:P across steep DIN:DIP gradients in both space and time suggests that the stoichiometry of particulates across U.S. watersheds is most likely controlled either by external or by physicochemical instream factors, rather than by biological processing within streams. Our findings suggest that most U.S. streams and rivers have concentrations of N and P exceeding those considered protective of ecological integrity, retain dissolved N less efficiently than P, which is retained proportionally more in particles, and thus transport and export high N:P streamwater to downstream ecosystems on a continental scale.
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- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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