Forest Age Influences In-stream Ecosystem Processes in Northeastern US
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A disturbance or natural event in forested streams that alter available light can have potential consequences for nutrient dynamics and primary producers in streams. In this study, we address how functional processes (primary production and nutrient uptake) in stream ecosystems respond to changes in forest canopy structure. We focus on differences in incoming irradiance, nutrient uptake (NO3, NH4, and PO4) and open-channel metabolism seasonally in 13 forested streams that drain forests with different canopy structures (10 to >300 years old) in the northeastern United States. Light irradiance was related to forest age in a U-shaped pattern, with light being the greatest in both young open forests (<50 years old) and older growth forests (>245 years old), whereas the darkest conditions were found in the secondary growth middle-aged forests (80–158 years old). Streams that had adjacent open or old-growth riparian forest had similar conditions with greater standing stock biofilm biomass (chl a), and elevated ER in October compared to streams with middle-aged riparian forests. Compared to all sites, streams with old-growth riparian forest had the greatest in-stream primary production rates (GPP) and elevated background nutrient concentrations, and to a lesser degree, increased nutrient retention and uptake (V f). Streams draining older forests tended to be more productive and retentive than middle-aged forests, likely due to increased light availability and the age and structure of surrounding forest canopies. Middle-aged forests had the least variation in response variables compared to streams in young and old-growth riparian forests, likely a result of uniform canopy conditions. As the structure of widespread middle-aged forests in NE US is altered by loss of specific tree species, climate change, and/or human activity, it will impact in-stream production and nutrient dynamics and may ultimately alter nutrient loading in downstream catchments.
Keywordsheadwater streams nutrient uptake metabolism NO3 PO4 NH4 forest structure light availability climate change
This work was possible due to a Grant from Northeastern States Research Cooperative Grant and funds from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. We would like to thank Holly Wellard-Kelly, Shelby Servais, Arial Shogren, Dustin Kincaid, Kathryn Vallis, Garrett Peters, Clifford Kraft, the ALC Little Moose Fisheries Station, Daniel Josephson, NH Fish and Game, John McGee for collaborative efforts with the restoration measures that occurred in Nash watershed.
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