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Anthropogenic landcover impacts fluvial dissolved organic matter composition in the Upper Mississippi River Basin


Landcover changes have altered the natural carbon cycle; however, most landcover studies focus on either forest conversion to agriculture or urban, rarely both. We present differences in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and dissolved organic matter (DOM) molecular composition within Upper Mississippi River Basin low order streams and rivers draining one of three dominant landcovers (forest, agriculture, and urban). Streams draining forest and urban landcovers have greater DOC concentrations, likely driven by differences in carbon sourcing, microbial processing, and soil disturbance. Using Fourier transform-ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry, 24% of assigned molecular formulae are common across all landcovers. Relative abundances of N-,S- heteroatomic formulae (CHON, CHOS, CHONS) are higher for agricultural and urban streams, with agricultural stream DOM having more N-containing formulae compared to urban stream DOM, which has more S-containing formulae. Higher N-,S- heteroatomic formulae abundance, along with enrichment in aliphatic, N-aliphatic, and highly unsaturated and phenolic (low O/C) compound categories within agricultural and urban stream DOM are likely to result from increased anthropogenic inputs, autochthonous production, and microbial processing associated with agricultural and urban impacts. Reduced N-,S- heteroatomic formulae abundances in forested stream DOM, along with enrichments in condensed aromatics, polyphenolics, and highly unsaturated phenolic (high O/C) compound categories, likely reflect greater contributions from surrounding organic-rich forest soil and vegetation. Overall, landcover change from forested to agriculture lowers DOC concentrations and changes from forested to agriculture or urban increases autochthonous, and presumably more biolabile, DOM contributions with ramifications for stream biogeochemical cycling.

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This work was supported by the USGS Biological Carbon Sequestration Program, the USGS National Research Program, and the American Chemical Society through PRF #59916-DNI8. A portion of this work was performed at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory ICR User Facility, which is supported by the National Science Foundation Division of Chemistry through DMR-1644779 and the State of Florida. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. The authors thank all the helpful researchers at the NHMFL ICR Program who enabled data acquisition and processing. The authors would like to acknowledge Britta Voss, Dane Campbell, Sarah Stackpoole, and Sydney Foks for assistance with field sampling and logistics. The authors would also like to thank Elizabeth Grater and Sarah Ellen Johnston for her help with field prep and laboratory analyses and Amanda L. Cowden for assistance with selection of urban sites. The dataset generated during the current study is available in the EarthChem repository (

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Correspondence to Derrick R. Vaughn.

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Responsible editor: Penny Johnes.

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Vaughn, D.R., Kellerman, A.M., Wickland, K.P. et al. Anthropogenic landcover impacts fluvial dissolved organic matter composition in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Biogeochemistry (2021).

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  • Dissolved organic matter
  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Landcover
  • Agriculture
  • Urbanization