Nutrient limitation in the lower Housatonic River estuary

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One of the most serious threats to freshwater and marine ecosystems is high rates of anthropogenic nutrient loading, particularly nitrogen (N) and phophorus (P). One of the major freshwater sources of nutrients to Long Island Sound (LIS) is the Housatonic River (HR). Current management plans that call for reducing N inputs without reducing P inputs may change the N: P ratio in the water column and the pattern of algal nutrient limitation and species composition in the tidal portion of the river. To assess the current pattern of algal nutrient limitation in the HR estuary, nutrient bioassays were conducted in spring, summer, and fall at 5 sites throughout the tidal portion and adjacent LIS. Diatoms were a dominant taxon at all sites throughout the sampling period. Other seasonally important taxa include cyanobacteria, cryptophytes, and euglenoids. Phytoplankton in LIS were always strongly N limited and were co-limited by P in spring. During low flow (summer), phytoplankton in the lower HR estuary were N limited. Phytoplankton in the middle reaches showed no evidence of N or P limitation and were likely limited by other factors. In spring, phytoplankton in the upper HR estuary were P limited. Periods of N or P limitation were better correlated with periods of lower concentrations of nitrate or phosphate than with differences in N: P ratio. These results suggest that decreases in N concentration could increase the prevalence of N limitation throughout the estuary that in turn may reduce phytoplankton biomass and alter species composition of the phytoplankton.


Copyright 2006 Estuarine Research Federation, published by Springer-Verlag

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Publication Title

Estuaries and coasts

Published Citation

Klug, J. L. (2006). Nutrient limitation in the lower Housatonic River estuary. Estuaries and coasts, 29(5), 831-840. doi:10.1007/BF02786534.



Peer Reviewed