Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

William B. Bowden

Second Advisor

Michael B. Flinn


Ecosystems are highly variable in space and time. Understanding how spatial and temporal scales influence the patterns and processes occurring across watersheds presents a fundamental challenge to aquatic ecologists. The goal of this research was to elucidate the importance of spatial scale on stream structure and function within the Oksrukuyik Creek, an Arctic watershed located on the North Slope of Alaska (68°36’N, 149°12’W). The studies that comprise this dissertation address issues of scale that affect our ability to assess ecosystem function, such as: methodologies used to scale ecosystem measurements, multiple interacting scales, translation between scales, and scale-dependencies.

The first methodological study examined approaches used to evaluate chlorophyll a in ethanol extracts of aquatic biofilms. Quantification of chlorophyll a is essential to the study of aquatic ecosystems, yet differences in methodology may introduce significant errors to its determination that can lead to issues of comparability between studies. A refined analytical procedure for the determination of chlorophyll a was developed under common acidification concentrations at multiple common reaction times. The refined procedure was used to develop a series of predictive equations that could be used to correct and normalize previously evaluated chlorophyll a data. The predictive equations were validated using benthic periphyton samples from northern Alaska and northwestern Vermont, U.S.A.

The second study examined interaction and translation between scales by examining how normalization approaches affect measurements of metabolism and nutrient uptake in stream sediment biofilms. The effect of particle size and heterogeneity on rates of biofilm metabolism and nutrient uptake was evaluated in colonized and native sediments normalized using two different scaling approaches. Functional rates were normalized by projected surface area and sediment surface area scaling approaches, which account for the surface area in plan view (looking top-down) and the total surface area of all sediment particles, respectively. Findings from this study indicated that rates of biogeochemical function in heterogeneous habitats were directly related to the total sediment surface area available for biofilm colonization. The significant interactions between sediment surface area and rates of respiration and nutrient uptake suggest that information about the size and distribution of sediment particles could substantially improve our ability to predict and scale measurements of important biogeochemical functions in streams.

The final study examined how stream nutrient dynamics are influenced by the presence or absence of lakes across a variety of discharge conditions and how catchment characteristics can be used to predict stream nutrients. Concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and other inorganic nutrients were significantly greater in streams without lakes than in streams in with lakes and DOC, total dissolved nitrogen (TDN), and soluble reactive phosphorus concentrations increased as a function of discharge. Catchment characteristic models explained between 20% and 76% of the variance of the nutrients measured. Organic nutrient models were driven by antecedent precipitation and watershed vegetation cover type while inorganic nutrients were driven by antecedent precipitation, landscape characteristics and reach vegetation cover types. The developed models contribute to existing and future understanding of the changing Arctic and lend new confidence to the prediction of nutrient dynamics in streams where lakes are present.



Number of Pages

205 p.