New insights on resource stoichiometry: assessing availability of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus to bacterioplankton
Abstract. Boreal lake and river ecosystems receive large quantities of organic nutrients and carbon (C) from their catchments. How bacterioplankton respond to these inputs is not well understood, in part because we base our understanding and predictions on
total pools, yet we know little about the stoichiometry of bioavailable elements within organic matter. We designed bioassays with the purpose of exhausting the pools of readily bioavailable dissolved organic carbon (BDOC), bioavailable dissolved nitrogen (BDN), and bioavailable dissolved phosphorus (BDP) as fast as possible. Applying the method in four boreal lakes at base-flow conditions yielded concentrations of bioavailable resources in the range 105–693 µg C L−1 for BDOC (2 % of initial total DOC), 24–288 µg N L−1 for BDN (31 % of initial total dissolved nitrogen), and 0.2–17 µg P L−1 for BDP (49 % of initial total dissolved phosphorus). Thus, relative bioavailability increased from carbon (C) to nitrogen (N) to phosphorus (P). We show that the main fraction of bioavailable nutrients is organic, representing 80 % of BDN and 61 % of BDP. In addition, we demonstrate that total C : N and C : P ratios are as much as 13-fold higher than C : N and C : P ratios for bioavailable resource fractions. Further, by applying additional bioavailability measurements to seven widely distributed rivers, we provide support for a general pattern of relatively high bioavailability of P and N in relation to C. Altogether, our findings underscore the poor availability of C for support of bacterial metabolism in boreal C-rich freshwaters, and suggest that these ecosystems are very sensitive to increased input of bioavailable DOC.