Primary Production in Tropical Streams and Rivers
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Net primary production is a fundamental ecological process that reflects the amount of carbon synthesized within an ecosystem, which is ultimately available to consumers. Although current ecosystem models of streams and rivers have placed variable emphasis on the importance of instream primary production to aquatic food webs, recent research indicates that aquatic algae are a significant contributor to food webs in tropical rivers and streams. This is in contrast to many well-studied north temperate latitude streams in deciduous forest ecosystems, which are thought to depend mainly upon terrestrial leaf litter and detritus-based food webs. A review of available literature suggests that rates of in-stream primary production in tropical regions are typically at least an order of magnitude greater than comparable temperate systems. Although nutrient status can significantly modify rates, the ultimate driver of aquatic primary production is light availability. Rates of benthic gross primary productivity in tropical streams range from 100 to 200mgCm-2 d-1 under shaded conditions to much higher values associated with open canopies. Light inputs to the channel can be controlled by stream orientation, with east-west channels receiving much more light compared to those orientated north-south. Rates of production for large tropical rivers are similar to those for streams, although factors that regulate production are different and hence they respond differently to human impact. Values for rivers range from 10 to 200mgCm-2 d-1 to more than 1000mgCm-2 d-1. Production is often limited by turbidity, which tends to be at a maximum after high flow events. In polluted tropical rivers, productivity responds to nutrient enrichment and can attain rates of 6000mgCm-2 d-1. The highest rates of production in tropical river systems typically occur in floodplains subject to seasonal inundation, where aquatic vascular plants dominate total productivity. These macrophytes (herbaceous vascular plants that can be primarily terrestrial or aquatic) can proliferate in situ or be transported from upstream. Rooted aquatic plants with emergent or floating leaves respond to the rising water level, sometimes elongating their stems at a rate of 20cmd-1, and many terrestrial plants tolerate prolonged submergence. These ecosystems can attain very high rates of primary production that rival those of intensively managed agro-ecosystems. Floodplain forest can also be a productive component of these ecosystems. Both attached algae (periphyton) and phytoplankton contribute substantially to algal production in floodplain waters. Floodplains are important for fodder and for nursery habitat for fish, which re-invade main channels when floods recede. Tropical rivers may flow into coastal mangrove ecosystems, where rates of productivity are variable and often dependent of methodologies of measurement. Rates of mangrove production range from 1300mgCm-2 d-1 in the T鲭inos Lagoon, Mexico to 1900-2700mgCm-2 d-1 in the Fly River estuary (Papua New Guinea). However, rates of phytoplankton growth within mangrove forests are low, probably controlled by shading and turbidity, and are comparable to those of tropical streams. As pressures for water resource development intensify, tropical fluvial ecosystems are coming under increasing pressure. It is important to understand how these ecosystems function and to ensure problems of developing water resources in temperate regions are not repeated in the tropics.
Tropical Stream Ecology
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