Discontinuities in stream nutrient uptake below lakesin mountain drainage networks

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Limnology and Oceanography



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In many watersheds, lakes and streams are hydrologically linked in spatial patterns that influence material transport and retention. We hypothesized that lakes affect stream nutrient cycling via modifications to stream hydrogeomorphology, source‐waters, and biological communities. We tested this hypothesis in a lake district of the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho. Uptake of NO3 and PO4−3 was compared among 25 reaches representing the following landscape positions: lake inlets and outlets, reaches >1‐km downstream from lakes, and reference reaches with no nearby lakes. We quantified landscape‐scale hydrographic and reach‐scale hydrogeomorphic, source‐water, and biological variables to characterize these landscape positions and analyze relationships to nutrient uptake. Nitrate uptake was undetectable at most lake outlets, whereas PO4−3 uptake was higher at outlets as compared to reference and lake inlet reaches. Patterns in nutrient demand farther downstream were similar to lake outlets with a gradual shift toward reference‐reach functionality. Nitrate uptake was most correlated to sediment mobility and channel morphology, whereas PO4−3 uptake was most correlated to source‐water characteristics. The best integrated predictor of these patterns in nutrient demand was % contributing area (the proportion of watershed area not routing through a lake). We estimate that NO3 and PO4−3 demand returned to 50% of pre‐lake conditions within 1‐4‐km downstream of a small headwater lake and resetting of nutrient demand was slower downstream of a larger lake set lower in a watershed. Full resetting of these nutrient cycling processes was not reached within 20‐km downstream, indicating that lakes can alter stream ecosystem functioning at large spatial scales throughout mountain watersheds.

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