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In low‐nutrient streams in cold and arid ecosystems, the spiraling of autochthonous particulate organic matter (POM) may provide important nutrient subsidies downstream. Because of its lability and the spatial heterogeneity of processing in hyporheic sediments, the downstream transport and fate of autochthonous POM can be difficult to trace. In Antarctic McMurdo Dry Valley (MDV) streams, any POM retained in the hyporheic zone is expected to be derived from surface microbial mats that contain diatoms with long‐lasting silica frustules. We tested whether diatom frustules can be used to trace the retention of autochthonous POM in the hyporheic zone and whether certain geomorphic locations promote this process. The accumulation of diatom frustules in hyporheic sediments, measured as biogenic silica, was correlated with loss‐on‐ignition organic matter and sorbed ammonium, suggesting that diatoms can be used to identify locations where POM has been retained and processed over long timescales, regardless of whether the POM remains intact. In addition, by modeling the upstream sources of hyporheic diatom assemblages, we found that POM was predominantly derived from N‐fixing microbial mats of the genus Nostoc. In terms of spatial variability, we conclude that the hyporheic sediments adjacent to the stream channel that are regularly inundated by daily flood pulses are where the most POM has been retained over long timescales. Autochthonous POM is retained in hyporheic zones of low‐nutrient streams beyond the MDVs, and we suggest that biogenic silica and diatom composition can be used to identify locations where this transfer is most prevalent.


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This document was originally published in JGR Biogeosciences by Wiley on behalf of the American Geophysical Union. Copyright restrictions may apply.

Available for download on Sunday, August 01, 2021