The influence of substratum type and nutrient supply on biofilm organic matter utilization in streams

We investigated the effect of benthic substratum type (sand and rocks) and nutrient supply (N and P) on biofilm structure and heterotrophic metabolism in a field experiment in a forested Mediterranean stream (Fuirosos). Rock and sand colonization and biofilm formation was intensively studied for 44 d at two stream reaches: control and experimental (continuous addition of phosphate, ammonia, and nitrate). Structural (C, N, and polysaccharide content and bacterial and chlorophyll density) and metabolic biofilm parameters (b-glucosidase, peptidase, and phosphatase enzyme activities) were analyzed throughout the colonization process. The epilithic biofilm (grown on rocks) had a higher peptidase activity at the impacted reach, together with a higher algal and bacterial biomass. The positive relationship between the peptidase activity per cell and the N content of the epilithic biofilm suggested that heterotrophic utilization of proteinaceous compounds from within the biofilm was occurring. In contrast, nutrient addition caused the epipsammic biofilm (grown on sand) to exhibit lower b-glucosidase and phosphatase activities, without a significant increase in bacterial and algal biomass. The differential response to nutrient addition was related to different structural characteristics within each biofilm. The epipsammic biofilm had a constant and high C:N ratio (22.7) throughout the colonization. The epilithic biofilm had a higher C:N ratio at the beginning of the colonization (43.2) and evolved toward a more complex structure (high polysaccharide content and low C:N ratio) during later stages. The epipsammic biofilm was a site for the accumulation and degradation of organic matter: polysaccharides and organic phosphorus compounds had higher degradation activities ​
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