Is In-Stream N2 Fixation an Important N Source for Benthic Communities and Stream Ecosystems?

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of the North American Benthological Society






North American Benthological Society

Publication Date



in-stream, nitrogen fixation, nitrogen source, benthis communities, stream ecosystems

First Page


Last Page



We evaluate the current state of knowledge concerning the ecosystem- and community-level importance of N2 fixation in streams. We reviewed the literature reporting N2-fixation contributions to stream N budgets and compared in-stream N2-fixation rates to denitrification and dissolved inorganic N (DIN)-uptake rates. In-stream N2 fixation rarely contributed >5% of the annual N input in N budgets that explicitly measured N2 fixation, but could contribute higher proportions when considered over daily or seasonal time scales. N2-fixation rates were statistically indistinguishable from denitrification and DIN-uptake rates from the same stream reach. However, published N2-fixation rates compiled from a wide variety of streams were significantly lower than denitrification or DIN-uptake rates, which were indistinguishable from one another. The data set we compiled might be biased because the number of published N2-fixation measurements is small (9 studies reporting rates in 22 streams), the range of stream conditions (NO3–-N concentration, discharge, season) under which N2-fixation and other N-processing rates have been measured is limited, and all of the rate estimates have associated methodological artifacts. To broaden our understanding of how N2 fixation contributes to stream ecosystems, studies must measure all rates concurrently across a broad range of stream conditions. In addition, focusing on how N2 fixation supports food webs and contributes to benthic community dynamics will help us understand the full ecological ramifications of N2 fixation in streams, regardless of the magnitude of the N flux into streams from N2 fixation.


Originally published by the North American Benthological Society. Publisher's PDF and HTML fulltext available through remote link via BioOne.
Note: Article originally appeared in the Journal of the North American Benthological Society (J-NABS).