Using the aquatic macrophyte Vallisneria americana (wild celery) as a nutrient bioindicator
Human sewage and septic waste are significant sources of nutrient loading to many aquatic ecosystems. Ecologically relevant nitrogen sources can be traced by analyzing nitrogen stable isotope ratios (δ15N signatures) in aquatic plants. Elevated δ15N signatures can suggest increased uptake of nitrogen derived from human and/or animal waste. In the current study, Vallisneria americana, a freshwater angiosperm, was collected from several locations in Upper Saranac Lake, NY, USA. Samples were also collected from Lake George, NY and the Sassafras River, MD, USA. Plant material was analyzed for δ15N and % N; some samples were also analyzed for δ13C, % C, and % P. Results suggest that there is variation in septic inputs to Upper Saranac Lake, with some areas of the lake receiving more input than others. Results also show that increased watershed population density is correlated with elevated δ15N signatures of Vallisneria americana. Taken together, these results suggest that nitrogen stable isotope analysis of aquatic plant tissue is an effective method for assessing and monitoring septic inputs to freshwater ecosystems.
Keywords: nitrogen stable isotope, Upper Saranac Lake NY, Lake George NY, Sassafras River MD, Adirondack Park, Chesapeake Bay