Nutrient uptake and mineralization during leaf decay in streams-a model simulation

J. R. Webster, J. D. Newbold, S. A. Thomas, H. M. Valett, P. J. Mulholland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


We developed a stoichiometrically explicit computer model to examine how heterotrophic uptake of nutrients and microbial mineralization occurring during the decay of leaves in streams may be important in modifying nutrient concentrations. The simulations showed that microbial uptake can substantially decrease stream nutrient concentrations during the initial phases of decomposition, while mineralization may produce increases in concentrations during later stages of decomposition. The simulations also showed that initial nutrient content of the leaves can affect the stream nutrient concentration dynamics and determine whether nitrogen or phosphorus is the limiting nutrient. Finally, the simulations suggest a net retention (uptake < mineralization) of nutrients in headwater streams, which is balanced by export of particulate organic nutrients to downstream reaches. Published studies support the conclusion that uptake can substantially change stream nutrient concentrations. On the other hand, there is little published evidence that mineralization also affects nutrient concentrations. Also, there is little information on direct microbial utilization of nutrients contained in the decaying leaves themselves. Our results suggest several directions for research that will improve our understanding of the complex relationship between leaf decay and nutrient dynamics in streams.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-390
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Review of Hydrobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • Leaf breakdown
  • Model
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Stoichiometry


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