Longitudinal patterns and response lengths of algae in riverine ecosystems: A model analysis emphasising benthic-pelagic interactions

  • In riverine ecosystems primary production is principally possible in two habitats: in the benthic layer by sessile algae and in the surface water by planktonic algae being transported downstream. The relevance of these two habitats generally changes along the rivers' continuum. However, analyses of the interaction of algae in these two habitats and their controlling factors in riverine ecosystems are, so far, very rare. We use a simplified advection-diffusion model system combined with ecological process kinetics to analyse the interaction of benthic and planktonic algae and nutrients along idealised streams and rivers at regional to large scales. Because many of the underlying processes affecting algal dynamics are influenced by depth, we focus particularly on the impact of river depth on this interaction. At constant environmental conditions all state variables approach stable spatial equilibria along the river, independent of the boundary conditions at the upstream end. Because our model is very robust against changes of turbulent diffusion and stream velocity, these spatial equilibria can be analysed by a simplified ordinary differential equation (ode) version of our model. This model variant reveals that at shallower river depths, phytoplankton can exist only when it is subsidised by detaching benthic algae, and in turn, at deeper river depths, benthic algae can exist only in low biomasses which are subsidised by sinking planktonic algae. We generalise the spatial dynamics of the model system using different conditions at the upstream end of the model, which mimic various natural or anthropogenic factors (pristine source, dam, inflow of a waste water treatment plant, and dilution from e.g. a tributary) and analyse how these scenarios influence different aspects of the longitudinal spatial dynamics of the full spatial model: the relation of spatial equilibrium to spatial maximum, the distance to the spatial maximum, and the response length. Generally, our results imply that shallow systems recover within significantly shorter distances from spatially distinct disturbances when compared to deep systems, independent of the type of disturbance.

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Author:Christoph G. JägerORCiD, D. Borchardt
Parent Title (English):Journal of Theoretical Biology
Document Type:Article (peer reviewed)
Publication Year:2018
Tag:Light; Longitudinal gradient; Nutrients; Resilience
First Page:66
Last Page:78
Peer reviewed:Ja
Funding Agency:DFG
Grant Number:JA 2146/1-1
faculties / departments:Forschung und Entwicklung
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 57 Biowissenschaften; Biologie