February 17, 2024
Journal Article

Rethinking Aerobic Respiration in the Hyporheic Zone Under Variation in Carbon and Nitrogen Stoichiometry


Hyporheic zones (HZs) – zones of groundwater-surface water mixing – are hotspots for dissolved organic matter (DOM) and nutrient cycling that can disproportionately impact aquatic ecosystem function. However, the mechanisms affecting DOM metabolism through space and time in HZs remain poorly understood. To resolve this gap, we investigate a recently proposed theory describing tradeoffs between carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) limitations as a key regulator of HZ metabolism. We propose that throughout the extent of the HZ, a single process like aerobic respiration (AR) can be limited by both DOM thermodynamics and N content due to highly variable C/N ratios over short distances (cm scale). To investigate this theory, we used a large flume, continuous optode measurements of dissolved oxygen (DO), and spatially and temporally resolved molecular analysis of DOM. Carbon and N limitations were inferred from changes in elemental stoichiometric ratio. We show sequential, depth-stratified relationships of DO with DOM thermodynamics and organic N that change across cm scales. In the shallow HZ with low C/N, DO was associated with thermodynamics of DOM, while deeper in the HZ with higher C/N, DO was associated with inferred biochemical reactions involving organic N. Collectively, our results suggest that there are multiple competing processes that limit AR in the HZ. Resolving this spatiotemporal variation could improve predictions from mechanistic models, either via more highly resolved grid cells or by representing AR co-limitation by DOM thermodynamics and organic N.

Published: February 17, 2024


Turetcaia A., V.A. Garayburu-Caruso, M.H. Kaufman, R.E. Danczak, J.C. Stegen, R.K. Chu, and J.G. Toyoda, et al. 2023. Rethinking Aerobic Respiration in the Hyporheic Zone Under Variation in Carbon and Nitrogen Stoichiometry. Environmental Science & Technology 57, no. 41:15499-15510. PNNL-SA-190231. doi:10.1021/acs.est.3c04765

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