Persistent Nitrogen Limitation of Stream Biofilm Communities Along Climate Gradients in the Arctic

Glob Chang Biol. 2018 Aug;24(8):3680-3691. doi: 10.1111/gcb.14117. Epub 2018 Apr 17.


Climate change is rapidly reshaping Arctic landscapes through shifts in vegetation cover and productivity, soil resource mobilization, and hydrological regimes. The implications of these changes for stream ecosystems and food webs is unclear and will depend largely on microbial biofilm responses to concurrent shifts in temperature, light, and resource supply from land. To study those responses, we used nutrient diffusing substrates to manipulate resource supply to biofilm communities along regional gradients in stream temperature, riparian shading, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) loading in Arctic Sweden. We found strong nitrogen (N) limitation across this gradient for gross primary production, community respiration and chlorophyll-a accumulation. For unamended biofilms, activity and biomass accrual were not closely related to any single physical or chemical driver across this region. However, the magnitude of biofilm response to N addition was: in tundra streams, biofilm response was constrained by thermal regimes, whereas variation in light availability regulated this response in birch and coniferous forest streams. Furthermore, heterotrophic responses to experimental N addition increased across the region with greater stream water concentrations of DOC relative to inorganic N. Thus, future shifts in resource supply to these ecosystems are likely to interact with other concurrent environmental changes to regulate stream productivity. Indeed, our results suggest that in the absence of increased nutrient inputs, Arctic streams will be less sensitive to future changes in other habitat variables such as temperature and DOC loading.

Keywords: Arctic; bioassay; biofilm; climate change; colimitation; nitrogen limitation; nutrient addition; stream productivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arctic Regions
  • Biofilms
  • Carbon
  • Climate Change*
  • Ecosystem
  • Nitrogen / chemistry
  • Nitrogen / toxicity*
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Soil
  • Sweden
  • Temperature


  • Soil
  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen