Shifts in Lake N:P Stoichiometry and Nutrient Limitation Driven by Atmospheric Nitrogen Deposition

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Science  06 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5954, pp. 835-837
DOI: 10.1126/science.1176199

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Human activities have more than doubled the amount of nitrogen (N) circulating in the biosphere. One major pathway of this anthropogenic N input into ecosystems has been increased regional deposition from the atmosphere. Here we show that atmospheric N deposition increased the stoichiometric ratio of N and phosphorus (P) in lakes in Norway, Sweden, and Colorado, United States, and, as a result, patterns of ecological nutrient limitation were shifted. Under low N deposition, phytoplankton growth is generally N-limited; however, in high–N deposition lakes, phytoplankton growth is consistently P-limited. Continued anthropogenic amplification of the global N cycle will further alter ecological processes, such as biogeochemical cycling, trophic dynamics, and biological diversity, in the world’s lakes, even in lakes far from direct human disturbance.

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