Report

Human Influences on Nitrogen Removal in Lakes

Science  11 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6155, pp. 247-250
DOI: 10.1126/science.1242575

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Unlucky Lakes

The negative consequences of increased loading of nitrogen and phosphorus into aquatic ecosystems are well known. Management strategies aimed at reducing the sources of these excess nutrients, such as fertilizer runoff or sewage outflows, can largely mitigate the increases in nitrogen and phosphorus levels; however, it is unclear if these strategies are influencing other spects of these ecosystems. Using a global lake data set, Finlay et al. (p. 247; see the Perspective by Bernhardt) found that reducing phosphorus inputs reduced a lake's ability to export reactive nitrogen, exacerbating nitrate pollution.

Abstract

Human activities have increased the availability of reactive nitrogen in many ecosystems, leading to negative impacts on human health, biodiversity, and water quality. Freshwater ecosystems, including lakes, streams, and wetlands, are a large global sink for reactive nitrogen, but factors that determine the efficacy of freshwater nitrogen removal rates are poorly known. Using a global lake data set, we show that the availability of phosphorus, a limiting nutrient, affects both annual nitrogen removal rate and efficiency. This result indicates that increased phosphorus inputs from human activities have stimulated nitrogen removal processes in many lakes. Recent management-driven reductions in phosphorus availability promote water column accumulation and export of nitrogen from large lakes, an unintended consequence of single-element management that argues for greater control of nitrogen as well as phosphorus sources.

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