In-stream fate of nutrients in karst agroecosystems remains poorly understood. The significance of these streams is recognized given spring/surface water confluences have been identified as hotspots for biogeochemical transformations. In slow-moving streams high in dissolved inorganic nutrients, benthic and floating aquatic macrophytes are recognized to proliferate and drastically impact nutrient fate; however, models that quantify coupled interactions between these pools are limited. We present a reach-scale modeling framework of nitrogen dynamics in bedrock-controlled streams that accounts for coupled interactions between hydrology, hydraulics, and biotic dynamics and is validated using a multi-year, biweekly dataset. A fluvial N budget with uncertainty was developed to quantify transformation dynamics for the dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) pool using a GLUE-like modeling framework, and scenario analyses were run to test for model function over variable environmental conditions. Results from a 10,000 run uncertainty analysis yielded 195 acceptable parameter sets for the calibration period (2000–2002), 47 of which were acceptable for the validation period (2003) (Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency (NSE) > 0.65; percent bias (PBIAS) < ±15), with significantly different posterior parameter spaces for parameters including denitrification coefficients and duckweed growth factors. The posterior solution space yielded model runs with differing biomass controls on DIN, including both algae and duckweed, but suggested duckweed denitrifies at a rate that would place the bedrock agroecosystem stream on the high-end of rates reported in the literature, contradicting the existing paradigm about bedrock streams. We discuss broader implications for watershed-scale water quality modeling and implementation strategies of management practices for karst agroecosystems, particularly with respect to stream restoration.

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Published in Water, v. 12, issue 9, 2458.

© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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This research was partially funded by the United States National Science Foundation (NSF), grant number 1632888.

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The following are available online at www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/12/9/2458/s1, Table S1: Seasonal average DIN removal rates, DIN vegetation uptake rates, denitrification rates, and regeneration rates for median (minimum–maximum) DIN values across the 47 posterior solutions for the calibrated model, Table S2: Seasonal average DIN assimilation and DIN denitrification rates in each biotic pool for median (minimum–maximum) DIN values across all 47 posterior solutions for the calibrated model.

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Supplementary File 1