Ecosystem metabolism and nutrient uptake in an urban, piped headwater stream


Piped streams, or streams that run underground, are often associated with urbanization. Despite the fact that they are ubiquitous in many urban watersheds, there is little empirical evidence regarding the ecological structure and function of piped stream reaches. This study measured ecosystem metabolism, nutrient uptake, and related characteristics of Pettee Brook—an urban stream that flows through several piped sections in Durham, New Hampshire, USA. Pettee Brook had high chloride and nutrient concentrations, low benthic biomass, and low rates of gross primary productivity (GPP), ecosystem respiration (ER), and nutrient uptake along its entire length during summer. Spring was a period of elevated biological activity, as increased light availability in the un-piped sections of the stream led to substantially higher GPP, ER, NH4 uptake, and PO4 uptake in these open reaches. Piped reaches of Pettee Brook were similar to open reaches in terms of water quality, dissolved O2 concentration, temperature, and discharge. Piped reaches did, however, have significantly less light, shallower sediments, and no debris dams. The absence of light inhibited autotrophic activity in piped reaches, resulting in the complete loss of GPP as well as a significant reduction in benthic AFDM and chlorophyll a biomass. Heterotrophic activity in piped reaches was not impaired to the same extent as autotrophic activity. Reduced ER was observed in piped reaches during the summer, but we failed to find significantly lower DOC or nutrient uptake rates in piped reaches than in open reaches. Carbon consumption in piped reaches, which do not have significant autochthonous or allochthonous carbon replenishment, must rely primarily on upstream inputs of organic matter. These results suggest that although ecological conditions in piped streams may be degraded beyond the extent of other urban stream reaches, piped reaches may still sustain some measurable ecosystem function.

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013