Landscape Ecology

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 193-206

First online:

Upstream-to-downstream changes in nutrient export risk

  • James D. WickhamAffiliated withNational Exposure Research Laboratory
  • , Timothy G. WadeAffiliated withNational Exposure Research Laboratory
  • , Kurt H. RiittersAffiliated withUS Forest Service, Forestry Sciences Laboratory
  • , R.V. O'NeillAffiliated withO'Neill Inc.
  • , Jonathan H. SmithAffiliated withNational Exposure Research Laboratory
  • , Elizabeth R. SmithAffiliated withNational Exposure Research Laboratory
  • , K.B. JonesAffiliated withNational Exposure Research Laboratory, US EPA
  • , A.C. NealeAffiliated withNational Exposure Research Laboratory, US EPA

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Nutrient export coefficients are estimates of the mass of nitrogen (N) or phosphorus (P) normalized by area and time (e.g., kg/ha/yr). They have been estimated most often for watersheds ranging in size from 102 to 104 hectares, and have been recommended as measurements to inform management decisions. At this scale, watersheds are often nested upstream and downstream components of larger drainage basins, suggesting nutrient export coefficients will change from one subwatershed to the next. Nutrient export can be modeled as risk where lack of monitoring data prevents empirical estimation. We modeled N and P export risk for subwatersheds of larger drainage basins, and examined spatial changes in risk from upstream to downstream watersheds. Spatial (subwatershed) changes in N and P risk were a function of in-stream decay, subwatershed land-cover composition, and subwatershed streamlength. Risk tended to increase in a downstream direction under low rates of in-stream decay, whereas high rates of in-stream decay often reduced risk to zero (0) toward downstream subwatersheds. On average, increases in the modeled rate of in-stream decay reduced risk by 0.44 for N and 0.39 for P. Interactions between in-stream decay, land-cover composition and streamlength produced dramatic changes in risk across subwatersheds in some cases. Comparison of the null cases of no in-stream decay and homogeneously forested subwatersheds with extant conditions indicated that complete forest cover produced greater reductions in nutrient export risk than a high in-stream decay rate, especially for P. High rates of in-stream decay and complete forest cover produced approximately equivalent reductions in N export risk for downstream subwatersheds.

Chesapeake Bay In-stream nutrient decay Modeling Nitrogen Phosphorus Pollution Watersheds