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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Concentration-Discharge Patterns Reveal Catchment Controls Over the Stoichiometry of Carbon and Nutrient Supply to Boreal Streams

Mosquera, Virginia; Laudon, Hjalmar; Blackburn, Meredith; Hasselquist, Eliza Maher; Sponseller, Ryan A.


Carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) export from catchments is strongly regulated by interactions between hydrological flowpaths and their terrestrial use/storage. While concentration-discharge (c-Q) relationships have been widely used to understand this interplay for C, N, and P individually, how flow regulates the relative supply of these resources across spatial and temporal scales is not well documented. Here, we analyze c-Q relationships from 12 years of data to test how seasonal flow regulates the concentrations of inorganic N (Dissolved inorganic nitrogen [DIN]) and P (Dissolved inorganic phosphorus [DIP]), dissolved organic N (DON) and C (dissolved organic carbon [DOC]) and their respective ratios across 12 streams in a boreal landscape. We observed opposing c-Q relationships between organic and inorganic solutes. DOC and DON tended toward transport limitation with little year-to-year change, whereas ammonium (NH4) and DIP were increasingly source limited over time. These different c-Q relationships translated into large (up to three-fold) shifts in resource ratios (e.g., DOC:DIN) in response to changes in flow. Our results also highlight strong influences of catchment structure on c-Q patterns, regardless of solute, season, and longer-term directional changes. Here, the organic solute c-Q responses became less transport limited over time; while inorganic solute responses became less source limited with increasing mire/decreasing forest cover. Overall, differences in timing of catchment exports for C, N, and P, create dynamic variation in solute concentrations in streams with subsequent impacts on resource stoichiometry that is central to aquatic ecological processes.


concentration-discharge relationships; nitrogen; phosphorus; dissolved organic carbon; nutrient stoichiometry; boreal catchments

Published in

Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
2023, Volume: 128, number: 8, article number: e2022JG007179