The excessive growth of benthic algal biofilms in UK rivers is a widespread problem, resulting in loss of plant communities and wider ecological damage. Elevated nutrient concentrations (particularly phosphorus) are often implicated, as P is usually considered the limiting nutrient in most rivers. Phosphorus loadings to rivers in the UK have rapidly decreased in the last decade,due to improvements in sewage treatment and changes to agricultural practises. However, in many cases, these improvements in water quality have not resulted in a reduction in nuisance algal growth. It is therefore vital that catchment managers know what phosphorus concentrations need to be achieved, in order to meet the UK’s obligations to attain good ecological status, under the EU’s Water Framework Directive. This study has developed a novel methodology, using within river mesocosms, which allows P concentrations of river water to be either increased or decreased, and the effect on biofilm accrual rate is quantified. These experiments identify the phosphorus\ud concentrations at which algae becomes P-limited, which can be used to determine knowledge-based P targets for rivers. The ability to reduce P concentrations in river water enables algae–nutrient limitation to be studied in nutrient-enriched rivers for the first time
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