, Volume 136, Issue 1, pp 71–90 | Cite as

Irrigation as a fuel pump to freshwater ecosystems

  • Sandrine J. MatiasekEmail author
  • Brian A. Pellerin
  • Robert G. M. Spencer
  • Brian A. Bergamaschi
  • Peter J. Hernes


We generated a detailed time series of total dissolved hydrolyzable amino acids (DHAA) in a watershed dominated by irrigated agriculture in northern California, USA to investigate the roles of hydrologic and seasonal changes on the composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM). DHAA are sensitive indicators of the degradation state and reactivity of DOM. DHAA concentrations ranged from 0.55 to 9.96 μM (median 3.51 ± 1.80 μM), with expected peaks during high-discharge storms and unexpected high values throughout the low-discharge irrigation season. Overall, summer irrigation was a critical hydrologic regime for DOM cycling since it mobilized DOM similar in concentration and reactivity to DOM released during storms. Together, irrigation and storm flows exported DOM with (1) the largest DHAA contributions to the dissolved organic carbon and the dissolved organic nitrogen pools, (2) the largest proportion of basic amino acids, and (3) the lowest degradation extent based on multiple indices. In this highly disturbed terrestrial system, UV–vis absorbance did not correlate with DHAA concentrations, while classic interpretations of common amino acid indicators (e.g., proportion of basic amino acids, degradation index, percent of non-protein amino acids) were prone to conflicting characterizations of DOM reactivity. Therefore, a new parameter (processing ratio, PR) derived from individual amino acid concentrations was developed that demonstrated a strong potential for mechanistic-driven characterization of the extent of DOM diagenesis in freshwaters. Irrigated agriculture altered stream biogeochemistry by releasing a continuous supply of reactive DOM (lowest PR values), thereby providing an additional energy source to downstream ecosystems.


Agricultural watershed Amino acids Dissolved organic matter Hydrologic controls 



We gratefully acknowledge the California Bay Delta Authority Ecosystem Program and Drinking Water Program and the Hydrologic Sciences Graduate Group at the University of California, Davis for their support. We also thank Rachael Dyda, Timothy Doane, Phil Bachand, Sandra Bachand, John Franco Saraceno, Frank Anderson, Kelly Smalling for analytical and field support, as well as Karl Kaiser for his guidance on amino acid analysis set up and helpful comments on the manuscript. We are grateful for Dr. Peter sharing her amino acid data from her 2012 paper. Finally, we thank five anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions that greatly improved this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 556 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 163 kb)
10533_2017_381_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (141 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 140 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandrine J. Matiasek
    • 1
    Email author
  • Brian A. Pellerin
    • 2
  • Robert G. M. Spencer
    • 3
  • Brian A. Bergamaschi
    • 4
  • Peter J. Hernes
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Geological and Environmental SciencesCalifornia State University ChicoChicoUSA
  2. 2.United States Geological SurveyRestonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  4. 4.United States Geological SurveySacramentoUSA
  5. 5.Department of Land, Air and Water ResourcesUniversity of California DavisDavisUSA

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