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Homogenization of dissolved organic matter within a river network occurs in the smallest headwaters

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Abstract

Understanding the drivers of variability in the concentration and composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in running waters is a fundamental challenge for aquatic biogeochemistry. Although multiple conceptual frameworks have been proposed to quantify expected changes in DOM within a river network, few studies have collected data to document the variability of DOM within such a network. We examine spatial and temporal variability in the concentration, optical properties, and biodegradability of DOM within a river network in New Hampshire, U.S.A. We examined dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration and DOM optical properties across 21 locations within the Lamprey River network (548 km2) with weekly to monthly sampling for 4 years, and biodegradable DOC (BDOC) at 7 mainstem locations for 1 year. DOC concentration and DOM character were highly heterogeneous at the scale of the smallest streams, where variability in land cover and nutrient concentrations were also greatest. At the landscape scale, DOC concentrations and DOM aromaticity increased with wetland cover and decreased with developed land cover and nitrate concentrations. Despite this heterogeneity across streams, we observed similar synchronous seasonal variation in DOC concentration and DOM character regardless of position within the river network, suggesting that broad environmental factors shape the sources and transport of DOM in river networks. In contrast, variation in BDOC over time or across sites was not strongly related to DOM quality or other predictors. Spatiotemporal patterns in DOM provide insight into the complex processes that influence terrestrial carbon export, in-stream processes, and DOM delivery to downstream ecosystems.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Michelle Shattuck, Elizabeth Holden, Ania Kobylinski, and Katherine Swan for field assistance. We also thank three anonymous reviewers for providing comments that improved this manuscript. Partial funding was provided by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. This manuscript is scientific contribution number 2783. This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture McIntire-Stennis Project 1006760. Ongoing monitoring within the Lamprey River watershed was supported by the Northeastern States Research Cooperative, the US EPA through the Connecticut River Airshed-Watershed Consortium, the NH Water Resources Research Center, the University of NH Office of Sustainability, the Office of the President of the University of NH, and the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program (Research Infrastructure Improvement Awards #EPS 1101245 and IIA-1330641). Additional support for L.E. Koenig was provided by a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation (GRFP-0913620).

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Coble, A.A., Koenig, L.E., Potter, J.D. et al. Homogenization of dissolved organic matter within a river network occurs in the smallest headwaters. Biogeochemistry 143, 85–104 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-019-00551-y

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