Global Patterns and Controls of Nutrient Immobilization on Decomposing Cellulose in Riverine Ecosystems

David M. Costello, Scott D. Tiegs, Luz Boyero, Cristina Canhoto, Krista A. Capps, Michael Danger, Paul C. Frost, Mark O. Gessner, Natalie A. Griffiths, Halvor M. Halvorson, Kevin A. Kuehn, Amy M. Marcarelli, Todd Royer, Devan M. Mathie, Ricardo J. Albarino, Clay P. Arango, Jukka Aroviita, Colden Baxter, Brent J. Bellinger, Andreas BruderFrancis J. Burdon, Marcos Callisto, Antonio Camacho, Fanny Colas, Julien Cornut, Veronica Crespo-Perez, Wyatt F. Cross, Alison M. Derry, Michael M. Douglas, Arturo Elosegi, Elvira Eyto, Veronica Ferreira, Carmen Ferriol, Tadeusz Fleituch, Jennifer J. Follstad Shah, Andre Frainer, Erica A. Garcia, Liliana Garcia, Pavel E. Garcia, Darren P. Giling, R. Karina Gonzales-Pomar, Manuel A. S. Graca, Hans-Peter Grossart, Francois Guerold, Luiz U. Hepp, Scott N. Higgins, Takuo Hishi, Carlos Iniguez-Armijos, Tomoya Iwata, Andrea E. Kirkwood, Aaron A. Koning, Sarian Kosten, Hjalmar Laudon, Peter R. Leavitt, Aurea L. Lemes da Silva, Shawn J. Leroux, Carri J. LeRoy, Peter J. Lisi, Frank O. Masese, Peter B. McIntyre, Brendan G. McKie, Adriana O. Medeiros, Marko Milisa, Yo Miyake, Robert J. Mooney, Timo Muotka, Jorge Nimptsch, Riku Paavola, Isabel Pardo, Ivan Y. Parnikoza, Christopher J. Patrick, Edwin T. H. M. Peeters, Jesus Pozo, Brian Reid, John S. Richardson, Jose Rincon, Geta Risnoveanu, Christopher T. Robinson, Anna C. Santamans, Gelas M. Simiyu, Agnija Skuja, Jerzy Smykla, Ryan A. Sponseller, Franco Teixeira-de Mello, Sirje Vilbaste, Veronica D. Villanueva, Jackson R. Webster, Stefan Woelfl, Marguerite A. Xenopoulos, Adam G. Yates, Catherine M. Yule, Yixin Zhang, Jacob A. Zwart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Microbes play a critical role in plant litter decomposition and influence the fate of carbon in rivers and riparian zones. When decomposing low-nutrient plant litter, microbes acquire nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from the environment (i.e., nutrient immobilization), and this process is potentially sensitive to nutrient loading and changing climate. Nonetheless, environmental controls on immobilization are poorly understood because rates are also influenced by plant litter chemistry, which is coupled to the same environmental factors. Here we used a standardized, low-nutrient organic matter substrate (cotton strips) to quantify nutrient immobilization at 100 paired stream and riparian sites representing 11 biomes worldwide. Immobilization rates varied by three orders of magnitude, were greater in rivers than riparian zones, and were strongly correlated to decomposition rates. In rivers, P immobilization rates were controlled by surface water phosphate concentrations, but N immobilization rates were not related to inorganic N. The N:P of immobilized nutrients was tightly constrained to a molar ratio of 10:1 despite wide variation in surface water N:P. Immobilization rates were temperature-dependent in riparian zones but not related to temperature in rivers. However, in rivers nutrient supply ultimately controlled whether microbes could achieve the maximum expected decomposition rate at a given temperature. Collectively, we demonstrated that exogenous nutrient supply and immobilization are critical control points for decomposition of organic matter.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021GB007163
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


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