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Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Biogeochemistry of nitrogen and phosphorus in Australian catchments, rivers and estuaries: effects of land use and flow regulation and comparisons with global patterns

Marine and Freshwater Research 52(1) 139 - 149
Published: 2001


This paper reviews the factors influencing the nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) exports from Australian catchments. Pristine, forested catchments export little N and P and the predominant form of N is dissolved organic nitrogen (DON). As catchments are cleared, exports increase and the predominant form of N changes from DON to dissolved inorganic N (DIN). Soluble reactive P (SRP) represents a roughly constant fraction of total P in these systems. As catchments are cleared, DIN:SRP export ratios increase sharply and DIN comes to represent a larger and larger fraction of the total N. The ratios of total N:P and DIN:SRP in rivers reflect land use and the residence times of the water. In Australian lakes and reservoirs, DON and total Kjeldahl N (TKN)are consumed and DIN is exported downstream. Australian freshwater systems with long residence times show stoichiometric evidence of N limitation, and the frequent occurrence of N-fixing cyanobacterial blooms. Despite TN:TP loading ratios equalling or exceeding Redfield stoichiometry, many Australian estuaries and coastal lagoons also show extensive evidence of rapid denitrification and N limitation. Coastal lagoons also have long water residence times (up to 1 year) and a high proportion of the N load is denitrified.

© CSIRO 2001

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