Atmospheric nitrogen deposition is associated with elevated phosphorus limitation of lake zooplankton

James J. Elser*, Angela L. Peace, Marcia Kyle, Marcin Wojewodzic, Michelle L. McCrackin, Tom Andersen, Dag O. Hessen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    76 Citations (Scopus)


    Here, we present data that for the first time suggests that the effects of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition on nutrient limitation extend into the food web. We used a novel and sensitive assay for an enzyme that is over-expressed in animals growing under dietary phosphorus (P) deficiency (alkaline phosphatase activity, APA) to assess the nutritional status of major crustacean zooplankton taxa in lakes across a gradient of atmospheric N deposition in Norway. Lakes receiving high N deposition had suspended organic matter (seston) with significantly elevated carbon:P and N:P ratios, indicative of amplified phytoplankton P limitation. This P limitation appeared to be transferred up the food chain, as the cosmopolitan seston-feeding zooplankton taxa Daphnia and Holopedium had significantly increased APA. These results indicate that N deposition can impair the efficiency of trophic interactions by accentuating stoichiometric food quality constraints in lake food webs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1256-1261
    Number of pages6
    JournalEcology Letters
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    • Nitrogen deposition
    • Phosphorus limitation
    • Stoichiometry
    • Zooplankton

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