Jump to Navigation

Spatial variation of nutrient balance in the Truckee River, California-Nevada

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of the American Water Resources Association, Volume 42, Issue 3, p.659-674 (2006)


Because the Truckee River connects two lakes along the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains with different limiting nutrients, this research addresses whether the nitrogen: phosphorus (N:P) balance of the river ecosystem changes longitudinally. Historical (1990 to 2000) total nitrogen:total phosphorus (TN:TP) ratios in river water exhibited the expected gradient from high N:P ratios upstream to low N:P ratios downstream, with the major gradient of the NT balance occurring within the transition between montane and high desert terrain. During 2001, the river contained anomalously low total nitrogen concentrations in the far upper reaches and dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentrations in the lower reaches, resulting in a less apparent longitudinal gradient of NT ratios. Measurements of periphyton growth and physiology (nutrient bioassays and ectoenzyme activities) and stoichiometry during the summer of 2001 also exhibited a complex picture of the spatial variation of N:P balance that was not entirely consistent with a strong N:P gradient. However, the compendium of the indicators did support the overall picture of an overarching longitudinal gradient from high to low N:P ratios. The results suggest that periphyton management efforts in the Truckee River should consider the overall spatial gradient as well as the small-scale dynamics of the stream ecosystem structure.