We conducted two experiments to determine the activity of and factors which control periphyton during winter in Stevensville Brook, Vermont. The first experiment during winter/spring 1994 examined the effect of a 300 to 450% difference in light and doubling of flow (low and high light, slow and fast flow) on periphyton chlorophyll a (chl a) and ash-free dry mass (AFDM) from stream rocks and artificial substrata. A second experiment was performed to determine whether periphyton was nitrogen or phosphorus limited. In addition, stream water was sampled during fall/winter 1994/95 for nitrate (NO3), ammonia (NH4), soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP), and total phosphorus (TP) to determine the availability of nutrients in Stevensville Brook. Increases of up to 250% for AFDM and 600% for chl a during the first study indicated robust activity throughout the winter despite low temperatures and light. Flow had a negative effect and sampling date was found to have a significant effect on periphyton biomass (chl a and AFDM) while light was found to influence increases in AFDM on clay tiles only. Water analyses showed that SRP was less than 0.001 mg L-1, NH4 and TP were low and often undetectable, and NO3 remained at about 0.20 mg L-1. Results from the nutrient enrichment experiment showed a significant response of chl a to P but not N and no response of AFDM to enrichment with either N or P. In Stevensville Brook during winter, the algal community, as represented by the chl a concentration, is predominantly controlled by phosphorus concentrations and is influenced to a lesser extent by flow; the periphyton community as a whole, represented by AFDM, is controlled mostly by stream flow and light.
Additional publication details
Periphyton dynamics in a subalpine mountain stream during winter