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Going with the flow: Planktonic processing of dissolved organic carbon in streams

Academic article
Year of publication
Science of the Total Environment
External websites
Involved from NIVA
Jes Jessen Rasmussen
Daniel Gräber, Poulsen Jane R, Marlen Heinz, Jes Jessen Rasmussen, Zak Dominik Henrik, Björn Gücker, Brian Kronvang, Norbert Kamjunke


A large part of the organic carbon in streams is transported by pulses of terrestrial dissolved organic carbon (tDOC) during hydrological events, which is more pronounced in agricultural catchments due to their hydrological flashiness. The majority of the literature considers stationary benthic biofilms and hyporheic biofilms to dominate uptake and processing of tDOC. Here, we argue for expanding this viewpoint to planktonic bacteria, which are transported downstream together with tDOC pulses, and thus perceive them as a less variable resource relative to stationary benthic bacteria. We show that pulse DOC can contribute significantly to the annual DOC export of streams and that planktonic bacteria take up considerable labile tDOC from such pulses in a short time frame, with the DOC uptake being as high as that of benthic biofilm bacteria. Furthermore, we show that planktonic bacteria efficiently take up labile tDOC which strongly increases planktonic bacterial production and abundance. We found that the response of planktonic bacteria to tDOC pulses was stronger in smaller streams than in larger streams, which may be related to bacterial metacommunity dynamics. Furthermore, the response of planktonic bacterial abundance was influenced by soluble reactive phosphorus concentration, pointing to phosphorus limitation. Our data suggest that planktonic bacteria can efficiently utilize tDOC pulses and likely determine tDOC fate during downstream transport, influencing aquatic food webs and related biochemical cycles.