Progress Article abstract

Nature Geoscience 1, 95 - 100 (2008)
Published online: 20 January 2008 | Corrected online: 20 July 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo101

There is a Corrigendum (August 2009) associated with this Progress Article.

Subject Categories: Biogeochemistry | Hydrology, hydrogeology and limnology

Biophysical controls on organic carbon fluxes in fluvial networks

Tom J. Battin1,2, Louis A. Kaplan3, Stuart Findlay4, Charles S. Hopkinson5, Eugenia Marti6, Aaron I. Packman7, J. Denis Newbold3 & Francesc Sabater8

Metabolism of terrestrial organic carbon in freshwater ecosystems is responsible for a large amount of carbon dioxide outgassing to the atmosphere, in contradiction to the conventional wisdom that terrestrial organic carbon is recalcitrant and contributes little to the support of aquatic metabolism. Here, we combine recent findings from geophysics, microbial ecology and organic geochemistry to show geophysical opportunity and microbial capacity to enhance the net heterotrophy in streams, rivers and estuaries. We identify hydrological storage and retention zones that extend the residence time of organic carbon during downstream transport as geophysical opportunities for microorganisms to develop as attached biofilms or suspended aggregates, and to metabolize organic carbon for energy and growth. We consider fluvial networks as meta-ecosystems to include the acclimation of microbial communities in downstream ecosystems that enable them to exploit energy that escapes from upstream ecosystems, thereby increasing the overall energy utilization at the network level.

  1. Department of Freshwater Ecology, University of Vienna, Althanstr. 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.
  2. WasserCluster Lunz, A-9232 Lunz am See, Austria.
  3. Stroud Water Research Center, 970 Spencer Road, Avondale, Pennsylvania 19311, USA.
  4. Institute of Ecosystem Studies, 65 Sharon Turnpike, Millbrook New York 12545-0129, USA.
  5. Marine Biological Laboratory, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA.
  6. Centre d'Estudis Avangats de Blanes, CSIC, Acces a la Cala St. Francesc, 14 Blanes, Spain.
  7. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois 60208-3109, USA.
  8. Department of Ecology, University of Barcelona, Avda. Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain.

Correspondence to: Tom J. Battin1,2 e-mail:

* In the version of this of this Progress Article originally published, Table 1 was incorrect and subsequently the values of global fluvial respiration and global net heterotrophy reported in text were incorrect. These errors have been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions.


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