Biogeochemistry

, Volume 108, Issue 1–3, pp 149–169 | Cite as

Temporal variation in organic carbon spiraling in Midwestern agricultural streams

  • Natalie A. Griffiths
  • Jennifer L. Tank
  • Todd V. Royer
  • Thomas J. Warrner
  • Therese C. Frauendorf
  • Emma J. Rosi-Marshall
  • Matt R. Whiles
Article

Abstract

Inland freshwaters transform and retain up to half of the carbon that enters from the terrestrial environment and have recently been recognized as important components of regional and global carbon budgets. However, the importance of small streams to these carbon budgets is not well understood due to the lack of globally-distributed data, especially from streams draining agricultural landscapes. We quantified organic carbon pools and heterotrophic metabolism seasonally in 6 low-order streams draining row-crop fields in northwestern Indiana, USA, and used these data to examine patterns in organic carbon spiraling lengths (SOC; km), downstream velocities (VOC; m/d), and turnover rates (KOC; day−1). There were seasonal differences in SOC, with the longest spiraling lengths in winter (range: 7.7–54.4 km) and the shortest in early and late summer (range: 0.2–9.0 km). This seasonal pattern in SOC was primarily driven by differences in discharge, suggesting that hydrology tightly controls the fate of organic carbon in these streams. KOC did not differ seasonally, and variability (range: 0.0007–0.0193 day−1) was controlled by differences in stream water soluble reactive phosphorus concentrations. Compared to previous studies conducted primarily in forested streams, agricultural streams tended to be less retentive of organic carbon. These systems function predominantly as conduits transporting organic carbon to downstream ecosystems, except during low, stable-flow periods (i.e., late summer) when agricultural streams can be as retentive of organic carbon as forested headwaters. High organic carbon retention in the late summer has implications for coupled carbon and nitrogen cycling (i.e., denitrification), which may play an important role in removing nitrate from stream water during periods of low flow.

Keywords

Organic carbon spiraling Streams Agriculture Channelization Retention Maize Filamentous algae Dissolved organic carbon Heterotrophic respiration 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank C. Chambers, J. Pokelsek, and M. Stephen for field and laboratory assistance. We also thank private land owners for facilitating access to study sites. Dr. R. O. Hall Jr. and two anonymous reviewers provided many helpful comments that greatly improved an earlier version of this manuscript. This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB-0415984). N. A. Griffiths was also supported by a Post-Graduate Scholarship (PGS-D) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natalie A. Griffiths
    • 1
    • 5
  • Jennifer L. Tank
    • 1
  • Todd V. Royer
    • 2
  • Thomas J. Warrner
    • 2
  • Therese C. Frauendorf
    • 1
    • 6
  • Emma J. Rosi-Marshall
    • 3
    • 7
  • Matt R. Whiles
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.School of Public and Environmental AffairsIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyLoyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Department of Zoology and Center for EcologySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA
  5. 5.Environmental Sciences DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  6. 6.Department of Zoology and Center for EcologySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA
  7. 7.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA

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