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Sources and Decomposition of Dissolved Organic Matter in Desert Streams

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Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is an important part of aquatic foodwebs because it contains carbon, nitrogen, and other elements required by heterotrophic organisms. It has many sources that determine its

Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is an important part of aquatic foodwebs because it contains carbon, nitrogen, and other elements required by heterotrophic organisms. It has many sources that determine its molecular composition, nutrient content, and biological lability and in turn, influence whether it is retained and processed in the stream reach or exported downstream. I examined the composition of DOM from vascular wetland plants, filamentous algae, and riparian tree leaf litter in Sonoran Desert streams and its decomposition by stream microbes. I used a combination of field observations, in-situ experiments, and a manipulative laboratory incubation to test (1) how dominant primary producers influence DOM chemical composition and ecosystem metabolism at the reach scale and (2) how DOM composition and nitrogen (N) content control microbial decomposition and stream uptake of DOM. I found that differences in streamwater DOM composition between two distinct reaches of Sycamore Creek did not affect in-situ stream respiration and gross primary production rates. Stream sediment microbial respiration rates did not differ significantly when incubated in the laboratory with DOM from wetland plants, algae, and leaf litter, thus all sources were similarly labile. However, whole-stream uptake of DOM increased from leaf to algal to wetland plant leachate. Desert streams have the potential to process DOM from leaf, wetland, and algal sources, though algal and wetland DOM, due to their more labile composition, can be more readily retained and mineralized.

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  • 2018