Evidence Resources

Syntheses In Progress

Response of chlorophyll a to total nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations in lotic ecosystems: a systematic review protocol



Eutrophication of freshwater ecosystems resulting from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is a major stressor across the globe. Despite recognition by scientists and stakeholders of the problems of nutrient pollution, rigorous synthesis of scientific evidence is still needed to inform nutrient-related management decisions, especially in streams and rivers. Nutrient stressor-response relationships are complicated by multiple interacting environmental factors, complex and indirect causal pathways involving diverse biotic assemblages and food web compartments, legacy (historic) nutrient sources such as agricultural sediments, and the naturally high spatiotemporal variability of lotic ecosystems. Determining nutrient levels at which ecosystems are affected is a critical first step for identifying, managing, and restoring aquatic resources impaired by eutrophication and maintaining currently unimpaired resources. The systematic review outlined in this protocol will compile and synthesize literature on the response of chlorophyll a to nutrients in streams, providing a state-of-the-science body of evidence to assess nutrient impacts to one of the most widely-used measures of eutrophication. This review will address two questions: “What is the response of chlorophyll a to total nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations in lotic ecosystems?” and “How are these relationships affected by other factors?”


Searches for published and unpublished articles (peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed) will be conducted using bibliographic databases and search engines. Searches will be supplemented with bibliography searches and requests for material from the scientific and management community. Articles will be screened for relevance at the title/abstract and full text levels using pre-determined inclusion criteria; 10% (minimum 50, maximum 200) of screened papers will be examined by multiple reviewers to ensure consistent application of criteria. Study risk of bias will be evaluated using a questionnaire developed from existing frameworks and tailored to the specific study types this review will encounter. Results will be synthesized using meta-analysis of correlation coefficients, as well as narrative and tabular summaries, and will focus on the shape, direction, strength, and variability of available nutrient-chlorophyll relationships. Sensitivity analysis and meta-regression will be used to evaluate potential effects of study quality and modifying factors on nutrient-chlorophyll relationships.


Nutrients, Pollution, Water quality, Stressor-response, Stream, River, Primary production, Eutrophication

Who's in the review team?

Micah G. Bennett
Kate A. Schofield
Sylvia S. Lee
Susan B. Norton

At what stage is the review?

Registered - in progress

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