Flow regulation in lowland rivers has reduced the amount of allochthonous dissolved organic carbon (DOC) entering main channels through less frequent wetting of benches, flood runners and floodplains. The hypothesis tested was that lowland riverine bacterioplankton are DOC limited when flow events are absent and simulating an increase in assimilable DOC similar to that expected during an environmental flow will lead to heterotrophic dominance. Experiments took place in the Namoi River, a highly regulated lowland river in Australia. Specifically, in situ microcosms were used to examine the responses of bacterioplankton and phytoplankton to various additions of DOC as glucose or leaf leachate, with and without additions of inorganic nutrients. The results indicated that ambient DOC availability limited the bacterioplankton for the three seasons over which we conducted the experiments. When DOC was added alone, dissolved oxygen concentrations decreased primarily because of increased bacterial respiration and bacterioplankton growth generally increased relative to controls. Additions of DOC alone led to a pattern of decreased chlorophyll a concentration relative to controls, except for willow leachate. Additions of inorganic nutrients alone increased chlorophyll a concentrations above controls, indicating limitation of phytoplankton. These findings support our hypothesis. Based on the present results, environmental flows should increase the duration of allochthonously driven heterotrophic dominance, thus shifting regulated lowland rivers to more natural (pre-regulation) conditions for greater periods.
- Dissolved organic carbon
- Flow regulation