Biogeochemical cycling constraints on stream ecosystem recovery

D. L. DeAngelis, P. J. Mulholland, J. W. Elwood, A. V. Palumbo, A. D. Steinman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In systems where production is limited by the availability of a nutrient, nutrient input to and recycling within the system is related to the resilience, or speed of recovery, of a system to its steady state following a disturbance. In particular, it is shown that the return time Ts of the system to steady state, or the inverse of the resilience, is approximately equal to the mean turnover time of the limiting nutrient in the system. From this relationship, it is possible to understand and predict how various properties of food webs and their environments affect resilience. These properties include nutrient input rate, loss rate, size of the detritus compartment, and trophic structure. The effects of these properties on resilience are described by using simple mathematical models. To test model predictions, experimental studies of the response of periphyton-dominated stream ecosystems to disturbance are being conducted on a set of laboratory streams in which nutrient inputs and grazing intensity are regulated at different levels. In streams without snail grazers (low-grazed streams), 90% recirculation of stream water to reduce nutrient inputs resulted in longer turnover times (Tr) of phosphorus within the stream compared with once-through flow. However, in streams with snail grazers (high-grazed streams), there were no differences in phosphorus turnover time between once-through and partially recirculated treatments. Results on the rate of recovery of periphyton from a flood/scour disturbance to each stream partially support the model prediction of a positive relationship between ecosystem return time (Ts) and nutrient turnover time (Tr) within the streams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-697
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 1990


  • Artificial streams
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Periphyton
  • Resilience
  • Resistance
  • Streams

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Pollution
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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