Is dissolved organic matter an overlooked nutrient source in fresh waters?

Stephen Maberly*, Davey L Jones, Richard Evershed, Penny Johnes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Anthropogenic nutrient enrichment is a major and widespread ecological problem (Le Moal et al. 2019). The consequent eutrophication can reduce the availability of useable water to human populations, increase the cost of supply, restrict recreational value and, where toxic algal blooms form, be a threat to human health. It also has major detrimental effects on the denizens of fresh waters: losses of biodiversity in fresh waters are the most severe of any ecosystem (WWF 2018). Common responses to eutrophication include a change from clear-water macrophyte-dominated systems to turbid-water phytoplankton-dominated systems, promotion of filamentous algae, alteration to fish and invertebrate communities and restriction of habitat caused by de-oxygenation at depth and lower underwater light levels (Moss 2018). These deleterious effects are almost always ascribed to increased concentrations of inorganic forms of phosphorus and nitrogen. However, in many fresh waters, especially those in relatively undisturbed catchments, dissolved forms of organic nitrogen (DON) and phosphorus (DOP) frequently exceed those of inorganic forms (Yates et al., 2019a; Durand et al., 2011: Figure 1). Furthermore, concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) are increasing for a number of reasons including regional reduction in acid deposition and global changes to the climate (Monteith et al. 2007). Since dissolved organic matter (DOM) is derived from biological material it contains other elements in addition to carbon, such as nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. The question thus arises ‘Is dissolved organic matter an overlooked nutrient source in fresh waters?’
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-18
JournalFreshwater Biological Association News
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 27 Apr 2020


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