Phosphorus in periphyton mats provides the best metric for detecting low-level P enrichment in an oligotrophic wetland

E. E. Gaiser, L. J. Scinto, J. H. Richards, K. Jayachandran, D. L. Childers, J. C. Trexler, R. D. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Growing concern over the ecological consequence of phosphorus (P) enrichment in freshwater wetlands has elicited considerable debate over the concentration of water column P associated with eutrophication. In the oligotrophic Everglades, the displacement of native communities by enriched ones is widespread and has occurred at sites experiencing only minimal elevations in P input. To help define regulatory criteria for P inputs to the Everglades, we constructed an experiment that mimics P input to the natural system by continuously delivering P at concentrations elevated 5, 15 and 30μgl-1 above ambient to 100-m long flow-through channels. We compared patterns of P accumulation in the water, periphyton, detritus and soils among the channel treatments and also along a 16km transect from an enriched canal that inflows to the interior of the same marsh. Water column TP and SRP were unrelated to input TP concentration in both the experiment and the marsh transect. However, concentrations of TP in periphyton mats were significantly elevated at all levels of experimental enrichment and as far as 2km downstream from water inputs into the marsh. Elevated periphyton TP was associated with significant loss of periphyton biomass. In oligotrophic wetlands, traditional measures of water column SRP and TP will substantially underestimate P loading because biotically incorporated P is displaced from the water column to benthic surfaces. Using periphyton TP as a metric of P enrichment is uncomplicated and analogous to pelagic TP assessments in lakes where most P is sequestered in phytoplankton.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)507-516
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Everglades
  • Microbial mats
  • Nutrient enrichment
  • Periphyton
  • Phosphorus
  • Wetlands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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