Highs and lows: The effect of differently sized freshwater inflows on estuarine carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and chlorophyll a dynamics

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 2015, 156 (1), pp. 71 - 82
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© 2014. Freshwater inflows play a key role in the delivery of organic carbon to estuaries. However, our understanding of the dynamics between discharge and carbon globally is limited. In this study we performed a 30-month monitoring study on the Bega and Clyde River estuaries, Australia, to understand the influence that discharge had on carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and chlorophyll a dynamics. We hypothesised that 1) discharge would be the most important factor influencing carbon and nutrient concentrations, though during low flows chlorophyll a would also be positively related to carbon, 2) bacteria would be related to dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and chlorophyll a to temperature, nitrogen and phosphorus, and 3) that concentrations of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacterial biomass and chlorophyll a would be significantly different between large 'flood flows', smaller 'fresh flows' and base flow conditions. We found that discharge was always the most important factor influencing carbon and nutrient concentrations, and that primary production appeared to have little influence on the variation in DOC concentration even during base flow conditions. We suggest this relationship is likely due to highly episodic discharge that occurred during the study period. Bacteria were related to DOC in the lower estuary sites, but phosphorus in the upper estuary. We suggest this is likely due to the input of bioavailable carbon in the upper estuary leading bacteria to be P limited, which changes downstream to carbon limitation as DOC becomes more refractory. Chlorophyll a was positively related to temperature but not nutrients, which we suggest may be due to competition with bacteria for phosphorus in the upper estuary. Carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations were different under flood, fresh and base flow conditions, though these differences sometimes varied between estuary locations for different resources. Overall, the results demonstrate that discharge plays an important structuring role for carbon, nutrient and bacteria dynamics on the Bega and Clyde Rivers, and that the differences observed between flood and fresh inflows suggest that further study into the influence of differently sized inflow events is important.
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