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Nutrient Pollution Damages Stream Health
An important food resource has been disappearing from streams without anyone noticing until now.

In a new study published March 6 in the journal Science, a team of researchers led by University of Georgia ecologists reports that nutrient pollution causes a significant loss of forest-derived carbon from stream ecosystems, reducing the ability of streams to support aquatic life.

The findings show that the in-stream residence time of carbon from leaves, twigs and other forest matter, which provide much of the energy that fuels stream food webs, is cut in half when moderate amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus are added to a stream.

Stream food webs are based on carbon from two main sources. One is algae, which produce carbon through photosynthesis. Nutrient pollution has long been known to increase carbon production by algae, often causing nuisance and harmful algal blooms. The second source is leaves and bits of wood from streamside forests. This forest-derived carbon typically persists year-round, making it a staple food resource for stream organisms.

This study shows how excess nutrients reduce stream health in a way that was previously unknown.


 
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Ground Water May Contain Decades Old Contamination - Nitrogen and phosphorus are the two plant nutrients in sewage and fertilizer that foul the bay, feeding its algae blooms and "dead zones." Both are washed off the land into streams whenever it rains, but nitrogen dissolves in water, so it also soaks down into the soil, ultimately reaching the water table.


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