, Volume 119, Issue 1–3, pp 275–292 | Cite as

Effects of land use on sources and ages of inorganic and organic carbon in temperate headwater streams

  • Yue Han Lu
  • James E. Bauer
  • Elizabeth A. Canuel
  • R. M. Chambers
  • Youhei Yamashita
  • Rudolf Jaffé
  • Amy Barrett


The amounts, sources and relative ages of inorganic and organic carbon pools were assessed in eight headwater streams draining watersheds dominated by either forest, pasture, cropland or urban development in the lower Chesapeake Bay region (Virginia, USA). Streams were sampled at baseflow conditions six different times over 1 year. The sources and ages of the carbon pools were characterized by isotopic (δ13C and ∆14C) analyses and excitation emission matrix fluorescence with parallel factor analysis (EEM–PARAFAC). The findings from this study showed that human land use may alter aquatic carbon cycling in three primary ways. First, human land use affects the sources and ages of DIC by controlling different rates of weathering and erosion. Relative to dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) in forested streams which originated primarily from respiration of young, 14C-enriched organic matter (OM; δ13C = −22.2 ± 3 ‰; ∆14C = 69 ± 14 ‰), DIC in urbanized streams was influenced more by sedimentary carbonate weathering (δ13C = −12.4 ± 1 ‰; ∆14C = −270 ± 37 ‰) and one of pasture streams showed a greater influence from young soil carbonates (δ13C = −5.7 ± 2.5 ‰; ∆14C = 69 ‰). Second, human land use alters the proportions of terrestrial versus autochthonous/microbial sources of stream water OM. Fluorescence properties of dissolved OM (DOM) and the C:N of particulate OM (POM) suggested that streams draining human-altered watersheds contained greater relative contributions of DOM and POM from autochthonous/microbial sources than forested streams. Third, human land uses can mobilize geologically aged inorganic carbon and enable its participation in contemporary carbon cycling. Aged DOM (∆14C = −248 to −202 ‰, equivalent14C ages of 1,811–2,284 years BP) and POM (∆14C = −90 to −88 ‰, 14C ages of 669–887 years BP) were observed exclusively in urbanized streams, presumably a result of autotrophic fixation of aged DIC (−297 to −244 ‰, 14C age = 2,251–2,833 years BP) from sedimentary shell dissolution and perhaps also watershed export of fossil fuel carbon. This study demonstrates that human land use may have significant impacts on the amounts, sources, ages and cycling of carbon in headwater streams and their associated watersheds.


DIC DOM POM 14δ13Excitation emission matrix–parallel factor analysis Stream Land use Watershed 



We thank Yohei Matsui, Edward Keesee, Erin Ferer, Christina Pondell, Sarah Schillawski, and Dr. Rachel Sipler for their help with field and laboratory work. We also thank Dr. Jim Kaste for cation and anion analyses. Timothy Russell and Dr. Stuart Hamilton provided us invaluable instruction on ArcGIS analyses. This paper is contribution 3351 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary and contribution 651 of the Southeast Environmental Research Center. This work was funded by a Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow Grant from The College of William and Mary and by the National Science Foundation (DEB0234533, OCE0327423, and EAR0403949 to J.E.B, and OCE0962277, EAR1003529, and DEB 0542645 to E.A.C.) and in collaboration with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under National Science Foundation (DBI0620409 to R.J.). We also acknowledge the support of Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium Funds (T3-013-UA, T3-020-UA, and T4-004-UA to Y.H.L.) during the manuscript preparation.

Supplementary material

10533_2014_9965_MOESM1_ESM.ppt (180 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PPT 178 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yue Han Lu
    • 1
  • James E. Bauer
    • 2
  • Elizabeth A. Canuel
    • 3
  • R. M. Chambers
    • 4
  • Youhei Yamashita
    • 5
  • Rudolf Jaffé
    • 6
  • Amy Barrett
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Aquatic Biogeochemistry Laboratory, Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal BiologyOhio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  3. 3.Department of Physical SciencesVirginia Institute of Marine SciencesGloucester PointUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyCollege of William and MaryWilliamsburgUSA
  5. 5.Faculty of Environmental Earth ScienceHokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan
  6. 6.Southeast Environmental Research Center and Department of Chemistry & BiochemistryFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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