Basic Principles and Ecological Consequences of Changing Water Regimes on Nitrogen Cycling in Fluvial Systems
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Understanding the environmental consequences of changing water regimes is a daunting challenge for both resource managers and ecologists. Balancing human demands for fresh water with the needs of the environment for water in appropriate amounts and at the appropriate times are shaping the ways by which this natural resource will be used in the future. Based on past decisions that have rendered many freshwater resources unsuitable for use, we argue that river systems have a fundamental need for appropriate amounts and timing of water to maintain their biophysical integrity. Biophysical integrity is fundamental for the formulation of future sustainable management strategies. This article addresses three basic ecological principles driving the biogeochemical cycle of nitrogen in river systems. These are (1) how the mode of nitrogen delivery affects river ecosystem functioning, (2) how increasing contact between water and soil or sediment increases nitrogen retention and processing, and (3) the role of floods and droughts as important natural events that strongly influence pathways of nitrogen cycling in fluvial systems. New challenges related to the cumulative impact of water regime change, the scale of appraisal of these impacts, and the determination of the impacts due to natural and human changes are discussed. It is suggested that cost of long-term and long-distance cumulative impacts of hydrological changes should be evaluated against short-term economic benefits to determine the real environmental costs.
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