Annales de Limnologie - International Journal of Limnology

Research Article

Organic phosphate in UK rivers and its relevance to algal and bryophyte surveys

Brian A. Whittona1 c1 and Colin Neala2

School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, McLean Building, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford OX10 8BB, UK


Although the data on phosphate obtained in surveys are used to assess the distribution of river biota, the approach is flawed when the organisms use P fractions not included in routine analysis. This is especially important where aquatic phototrophs are partially or largely dependent on aqueous organic phosphate. This paper reports a study where the data are sufficient to assess the quantitative importance of organic phosphate in rivers in eastern UK. Filterable hydrolyzable phosphate-P (FHP) is used as a surrogate for organic phosphate, although FHP sometimes includes other P forms. Eighteen sites were sampled weekly for at least one, but mostly three years (2033 samples). The data are compared for mid- and lower-reach sites. FHP formed at least 20% TFP (total filterable phosphate-P) at 14 sites, with the percentage values higher at the more upstream and more northern sites. FHP exceeded 1000 μg.L−1 P in 32 mid- and 53 lower-reach records. The lower the TFP concentration, the higher the % FHP at both types of site. Five sites had over 25% of their records where FHP is likely to be especially important for growth of algae and bryophytes, based on FHP being >50 μg.L−1 P when TFP ≤200 μg.L−1 P. These include the upper site on River Swale, and other literature for this river indicates that FHP becomes increasingly important further upstream and even more so in tributary streams. FHP should be included in monitoring programmes for upland rivers, especially where the catchment includes peat-rich soils.

(Received October 09 2010)

(Accepted December 06 2010)

(Online publication January 26 2011)

Key Words:

  • Organic phosphate;
  • rivers;
  • peat;
  • algae;
  • monitoring


c1 Corresponding author: