Nutrient cycling, connectivity and free-floating plant abundance in backwater lakes of the Upper Mississippi River
Houser, Jeffrey N.; Giblin, Shawn M.; James, William F.; Langrehr, Heidi A.; Rogala, James T.; Sullivan, John F.; Gray, Brian R.
River eutrophication may cause the formation of dense surface mats of free floating plants (FFP; e.g., duckweeds and filamentous algae) which may adversely affect the ecosystem. We investigated associations among hydraulic connectivity to the channel, nutrient cycling, FFP, submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV), and dissolved oxygen concentration (DO) in ten backwater lakes of the Upper Mississippi River (UMR) that varied in connectivity to the channel. Greater connectivity was associated with higher water column nitrate (NO3-N) concentration, higher rates of sediment phosphorus (P) release, and higher rates of NO3-N flux to the sediments. Rates of sediment P and N (as NH4-N) release were similar to those of eutrophic lakes. Water column nutrient concentrations were high, and FFP tissue was nutrient rich suggesting that the eutrophic condition of the UMR often facilitated abundant FFP. However, tissue nutrient concentrations, and the associations between FFP biomass and water column nutrient concentrations, suggested that nutrients constrained FFP abundance at some sites. FFP abundance was positively associated with SAV abundance and negatively associated with dissolved oxygen concentration. These results illustrate important connections among hydraulic connectivity, nutrient cycling, FFP, SAV, and DO in the backwaters of a large, floodplain river.