• bioavailability;
  • dissolved organic matter;
  • nitrogen deposition;
  • nutrient limitation;
  • streams


1. Chronic nitrogen (N) deposition may alter the bioavailability of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in streams by multiple pathways. Elevated N deposition may alter the nutrient stoichiometry of DOM as well as nutrient availability in stream water.

2. We evaluated the influence of a decadal-scale experimental N enrichment on the relative importance of DOM nutrient content and inorganic nutrient availability on the bioavailability of DOM. We measured the consumption of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and changes in nutrient concentration, DOM components and enzyme activity in a bottle incubation assay with different DOM and nutrient treatments. To evaluate the effect of DOM stoichiometry, we used leaf leachates of different carbon/N/phosphorus (C : N :P) ratio, made from leaf litter sourced in the reference and N-enriched catchments at the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine (BBWM). We also manipulated the concentration of inorganic N and P to compare the effect of nutrient enrichment with DOM stoichiometry.

3. DOC from the N-enriched catchment was consumed 14% faster than that from the reference catchment. However, mean DOC consumption for both leachates was more than doubled by the simultaneous addition of N and P, compared to controls, while the addition of N or P alone increased consumption by 42 and 23%, respectively. The effect of N and/or P enrichment consistently had a greater effect than DOM source for all response variables considered.

4. We subsequently conducted DOC uptake measurements using leaf leachate addition under ambient and elevated N and P in the streams draining the reference and N-enriched catchments at BBWM. In both streams, DOC uptake lengths were shorter when N and P were elevated.

5. Although both DOM stoichiometry and inorganic nutrient availability affect DOM bioavailability, N and P co-limitation appears to be the dominant driver of reach-scale processing of DOM.