TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

Science and knowledge that governments, communities, industries for sustainable use of Australia's tropical rivers and estuaries

Factors controlling primary productivity in a wet–dry tropical river

TitleFactors controlling primary productivity in a wet–dry tropical river
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsFaggotter, SJ, Webster, I, Burford, MA
JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
Start Page585
Date Published05/2013
Keywordsmicroalgae, nutrients, waterholes.

Algal production in rivers fuels foodwebs, and factors controlling this production ultimately affect food availability. Conversely, excessive algal production can have negative effects on higher trophic levels. The present study examined permanent waterholes in a disconnected wet–dry tropical river to determine the controls on algal production. Primary production in this river system was high compared with arid-zone and perennially flowing tropical rivers. Phytoplankton biomass increased over the dry season but this appeared to be because waterhole volume decreased, due to evaporation. Nitrogen (N) was the key limiting nutrient for phytoplankton, with rapid N turnover times, depletion of particulate 15N-nitrogen reflecting increasing N fixationover the dry season, and N stimulation in phytoplankton bioassays. The waterholes were shallow, providing sufficient light for accumulation of benthic algal biomass. Exclosure experiments were also conducted to determine the impact of top–down control on benthic algal biomass, with no evidence that exclusion of fish and crustaceans increased benthic algal biomass. The shallow off-channel waterhole in our study had substantially higher concentrations of nutrients and chlorophyll a than did the on-channel waterholes. This suggests that future anthropogenic changes, such as increased water extraction and increased nutrient inputs, could make the waterholes more vulnerable to deteriorating water quality, such as e.g. algal blooms, low concentrations of dissolved oxygen.