Hydrological control of organic carbon support for bacterial growth in boreal headwater streams

Microb Ecol. 2009 Jan;57(1):170-8. doi: 10.1007/s00248-008-9423-6. Epub 2008 Jul 26.


Terrestrial organic carbon is exported to freshwater systems where it serves as substrate for bacterial growth. Temporal variations in the terrigenous organic carbon support for aquatic bacteria are not well understood. In this paper, we demonstrate how the combined influence of landscape characteristics and hydrology can shape such variations. Using a 13-day bioassay approach, the production and respiration of bacteria were measured in water samples from six small Swedish streams (64 degrees N, 19 degrees E), draining coniferous forests, peat mires, and mixed catchments with typical boreal proportions between forest and mire coverage. Forest drainage supported higher bacterial production and higher bacterial growth efficiency than drainage from mires. The areal export of organic carbon was several times higher from mire than from forest at low runoff, while there was no difference at high flow. As a consequence, mixed streams (catchments including both mire and forest) were dominated by mire organic carbon with low support of bacterial production at low discharge situations but dominated by forest carbon supporting higher bacterial production at high flow. The stimulation of bacterial growth during high-flow episodes was a result of higher relative export of organic carbon via forest drainage rather than increased drainage of specific "high-quality" carbon pools in mire or forest soils.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Organic Chemicals / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Picea / growth & development
  • Pinus / growth & development
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Rivers / microbiology*
  • Sphagnopsida / growth & development
  • Sweden
  • Trees / growth & development


  • Organic Chemicals
  • Carbon