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Tissue nutrient concentrations in freshwater aquatic macrophytes: high inter-taxon differences and low phenotypic response to nutrient supply


Dr Benoît Demars, The Macaulay Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH, U.K.


1. The elemental composition and stoichiometry of aquatic plants has often been suggested to reflect the nutrient enrichment of aquatic habitats. However, the relationship is often weak. Moreover, uncertainties remain in the relevance of laboratory derived critical plant tissue nutrient concentrations to maximum yield or growth rates in the field.

2. Aquatic vascular plants and bryophytes, overlying water and sediment samples were collected to test whether freshwater aquatic macrophytes: (i) show tissue nutrient deficiencies when growing in oligotrophic freshwater habitats, and (ii) have strict homeostatic stoichiometry.

3. Plant nutrient concentrations were significantly related to total inorganic nitrogen (or nitrate), total dissolved phosphorus and sediment total phosphorus. However, these relationships were weak. Virtually all the variance in plant tissue nutrient concentrations, however, could be explained by species (taxon) identity.

4. Critical tissue nutrient concentrations for 95% maximum yield or 95% maximum growth rate in aquatic angiosperms, determined from laboratory bioassays, suggested that nutrients should not limit yield in wild aquatic macrophytes. However, there were a substantial number of samples where potential growth rate limitation was possible, particularly due to phosphorus.

5. Strict C : N : P stoichiometric ratios were found for both vascular plants and bryophytes, suggesting little scope for plants as indicators of nutrient enrichment, but provide robust stoichiometric data for studies on ecosystem metabolism and nutrient cycling.