Home > Explore Data & Reports > Estuarine classification and response to nitrogen loading: Insights from simple ecological models


Swaney, D.P., D. Scavia, R.W. Howarth, and R.M. Marino. 2008. Estuarine classification and response to nitrogen loading: Insights from simple ecological models. Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science, 77:253-263. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2007.09.013

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Estuaries exhibit a large range in their responses to nitrogen loadings determined in part by characteristics of the driver, such as magnitude and frequency, but also by such intrinsic characteristics as physical/chemical factors (e.g., depth, volume, hypsometry, salinity, turbidity) and biological factors (e.g., nature of ecological communities, trophic interactions). To address the richness of estuarine response to driver variables, the aim ultimately is to establish a simple estuarine classification scheme, beginning with a river-dominated subset of estuarine systems and focusing on the role of water residence time in the estuary. Residence time (or flushing time) is related to other drivers (streamflow, nutrient, and sediment loads) and drives much of the biological response of estuaries because of flushing effects on plankton, temperature, nutrients, and light. Toward this goal, nutrient–phytoplankton–zooplankton (NPZ) models have been used to examine a range of subjects including effects of nutrient limitation and zooplankton predation on phytoplankton dynamics and fish predation. This class of model can admit a wide range of behavior, including multiple steady-states and oscillatory behavior. The NPZ equations include terms for nutrient recycling, phytoplankton settling, benthic regeneration, and zooplankton mortality. Analysis of the equations suggests that both the nature of nitrogen loading (i.e., whether it is correlated with discharge or independent of it) and residence time are critical in determining the steady-state response of the system.

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