Nutrient spiraling in theory and application provides a framework for comparing nutrient retention efficiency of urban streams to relatively unaltered streams. Previous research indicated that streams of the southwestern USA deserts are highly retentive of N because of N limitation, high productivity, and high channel complexity (in particular, extensive transient storage associated with the hyporheic zone). Most southwestern urban streams have extensively modified channels and experience N loading from urban runoff and inputs of NO3−-contaminated groundwater. Therefore, we predicted southwestern urban streams are neither N-limited nor retentive. For some urban streams, however, restoration efforts reestablish flow in long-dry channels, create nonstructural flood-management solutions, and design riparian areas as a public recreation amenity. These human modifications may, in part, restore N retention functions if channel complexity and heterogeneity are as important to N retention efficiency as believed. We conducted experimental tracer studies using 15N-NO3−, as part of the Lotic Intersite Nitrogen eXperiment (LINX) project, and several separate nutrient-addition experiments (using slight increases in NO3− concentration), to evaluate N retention in southwestern urban streams. We present preliminary results of those experiments, comparing results to similar experiments in unaltered streams to test our predictions. Our results allow an evaluation of the use of nutrient spiraling metrics as a tool for assessing the status of stream ecosystem services in urban restoration projects.
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Vol. 24 • No. 3