Energy Flow in Bear Brook, New Hampshire: An Integrative Approach to Stream Ecosystem Metabolism

Stuart G. Fisher and Gene E. Likens
Ecological Monographs
Vol. 43, No. 4 (Autumn, 1973), pp. 421-439
DOI: 10.2307/1942301
Stable URL:
Page Count: 19
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Energy Flow in Bear Brook, New Hampshire: An Integrative Approach to Stream Ecosystem Metabolism


An annual energy budget is presented for Bear Brook, a small undisturbed second-order stream in northeastern United States. The ecosystem approach, in which all input and output fluxes of potential energy as organic matter are considered, is used to describe the dynamics of energy flow in a 1,700-m segment of the stream. The annual input of energy to the system is 6,039 Kcal/m^2. Over 99% of this is allochthonous, from the surrounding forested watershed or from upstream areas. Autochthonous primary production by mosses accounts for less than 1% of the total energy available to the ecosystem. Algae and vascular hydrophytes are absent from the stream. Meteorologic inputs (litter and throughfall) from the adjacent forest account for 44% of annual energy input. Most of this is in particulate form. The remaining 56% of input enters by geologic vectors (inflowing surface and subsurface waters). Eighty-three per cent of the geologic input and 47% of the total input of energy occur as dissolved organic matter. Approximately 4,730 Kcal/m^2 of organic detritus, nearly equally divided between leaves and branches, is stored within the system. The size of this detritus reservoir is stable from year to year. The turnover time of the branch compartment is about 4.2 years; of the leaf compartment, about 1 year. Although much of the annual input of energy is in a dissolved state, dissolved organic matter does not tend to accumulate in the system and displays a very rapid rate of turnover. Sixty-six per cent of annual energy input is exported to downstream areas in stream water. The remaining 34% is lost as heat through consumer activity. Bear Brook is a strongly heterotrophic steady-state system in which import and export of organic matter play a significant role. A conceptual scheme is presented by which import, export, photosynthesis, and respiration may be used to describe the functional dynamics and developmental processes of ecosystems.