Skip to main content

Stream water nutrient and organic carbon exports from tropical headwater catchments at a soil degradation gradient

Abstract

Carbon and nutrient losses were quantified from four small headwater catchments in western Kenya in the year 2008. They include a forested catchment and three catchments under maize continuously cultivated for 5, 10 and 50 years following forest conversion. The C isotopic composition of dissolved organic C (DOC) in stream discharge suggested that soil organic C (SOC) derived from the original forest rather than OC from maize may have contributed to a large extent to watershed OC losses, even 50 years after the forest was removed. Flow-weighted stream water concentrations of DOC and coarse particulate OC, all N species, total P, K and Na significantly (P < 0.05) increased in streams after forest conversion and long-term cultivation. Solute concentrations increased despite the fact that soil contents decreased and total water flow increased indicating mobilization of C and N, P and K from soil with progressing cultivation. In contrast, Ca and Mg concentrations in stream water did not systematically change after deforestation and cultivation, and may be controlled by geochemical weathering rather than by changing water flow paths or topsoil contents. All OC and nutrient exports increased with longer cultivation over decadal time scales (P < 0.05) to the same or greater extent than through deforestation and the first years of cultivation. Fluvial OC and total N losses were 2 and 21 % of total SOC and total N decline, respectively, in the top 0.1 m over 50 years. Fluvial OC losses therefore played a minor role, and SOC losses were mainly a result of microbial mineralization. Resulting total N losses by stream discharge, however, were large with 31 kg ha−1 year−1 after 50 years of continuous cropping in comparison to fertilization of 40 kg N ha−1 year−1. Most (91 %) of the N losses occurred as NO3 . In contrast, P losses by stream discharge were negligible in comparison to plant uptake. Water losses should be managed to reduce soil fertility declines especially through large N export from agricultural headwater catchments. However, stream concentrations of both P (0.01–0.15 mg L−1) and N (0.4–4.8 mg L−1) were moderate or low with respect to possible consequence for human health and not responsible for eutrophication observed in Lake Victoria.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  1. Aloo PA (2003) Biological diversity of the Yala Swamp lakes, with special emphasis on fish species composition, in relation to changes in the Lake Victoria Basin (Kenya): threats and conservation measures. Biodivers Conserv 12:905–920

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson SP, Dietrich WE, Torres R, Montgomery DR, Loague K (1997) Concentration-discharge relationships in runoff from a steep, unchanneled catchment. Water Resour Res 33:211–225

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Auer MT, Kieser MS, Canale RP (1986) Identification of critical nutrient levels through field verification of models for phosphorus and phytoplankton growth. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 43:379–388

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Awiti AO, Walsh MG, Kinyamario J (2008) Dynamics of tropical carbon and nitrogen along a tropical forest-cropland chronosequence: evidence from stable isotope analysis and spectroscopy. Agric Ecosyst Environ 127:265–272

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Bleher B, Uster D, Bergsdorf T (2006) Assessment of threat status and management effectiveness in Kakamega forest, Kenya. Biodivers Conserv 15:1159–1177

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bucker A, Crespo P, Frede H, Breuer L (2011) Solute behavior and export rates in neotropical montane catchments under different land-uses. J Trop Ecol 27:305–317

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Cairns MA, Lajtha K, Beedlow PA (2009) Dissolved carbon and nitrogen losses from forests of the Oregon Cascades over a successional gradient. Plant Soil 318:185–196

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Campbell DJ, Henshall JK (1991) Bulk density. In: Smith KA, Mullins CE (eds) Soil analysis-physical methods. Marcel Dekker, New York, pp 329–366

    Google Scholar 

  9. Carpenter SR, Caraco NF, Correll DL, Howarth RW, Sharpley AN, Smith VH (1998) Nonpoint pollution of surface waters with phosphorus and nitrogen. Ecol Appl 8:559–568

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Davidson EA, Ackerman IL (1993) Changes in soil carbon inventories following cultivation of previously untilled soils. Biogeochemistry 20:161–193

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Davidson EA, Neill C, Krusche AV, Ballester VVR, Markewitz D, de Figueiredo RO (2004) Loss of nutrients from terrestrial ecosystems to streams and atmosphere following land use change in Amazonia. In: DeFries R, Asner G, Houghton R (eds) Ecosystems and land use change. Geophysical Monographs, AGU, Washington, pp 147–158

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  12. deGraffenried JB, Jr Shepherd KD (2009) Rapid erosion modeling in a western Kenya watershed using near infrared reflectance, classification tree analysis and 137Cesium. Geoderma 154:93–100

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Elsenbeer H (2001) Hydrologic flowpaths in tropical rainforest soilscapes—a review. Hydrol Process 15:1751–1759

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Elsenbeer H, West A, Bonell M (1994) Hydrologic pathways and stormflow hydrochemistry at South Creek, Northeast Queensland. J Hydrol 162:1–21

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. FAO-UNESCO-ISRIC (1988) Revised legend, FAO-UNESCO Soil map of the world. World Soil Resources Report 60, Rome, 119 pp

  16. Frank H, Patrick S, Peter W, Hannes F (2000) Export of dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen from Gleysol dominated catchments—the significance of water flow paths. Biogeochemistry 50:137–161

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Germer S, Neill C, Krusche AV, Elsenbeer H (2010) Influence of land-use change on near-surface hydrological processes: undisturbed forest to pasture. J Hydrol 380:473–480

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Glenday J (2006) Carbon storage and emissions offset potential in an East African tropical rainforest. For Ecol Manag 235:72–83

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Grimaldi C, Drimaldi M, Millet A, Bariac T, Boulegue J (2004) Behaviour of chemical solutes during a storm in a rainforested headwater catchment. Hydrol Process 18:93–106

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Grip H, Fritsch JM, Bruijnzeel LA (2004) Soil and water impacts during forest conversion and stabilization to new land use. In: Bonell M, Bruijnzeel LA (eds) Forests, water, and people in the humid tropics: past, present, and future. Hydrological Research for Integrated Land and Water Management, UNESCO International 531 Hydrology Series, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp 561–589

  21. Hartemink AE, Veldkamp T, Bai ZG (2008) Land cover change and soil fertility decline in tropical regions. Turkish J Agric For 32:195–213

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Hecky RE, Mugidde R, Ramlal PS, Talbot MR, Kling GW (2010) Multiple stressors cause rapid ecosystem change in Lake Victoria. Freshw Biol 55(Suppl 1):19–42

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Hertel D, Moser G, Culmsee H, Erasmi S, Horna V, Schuldt B, Leuschner C (2009) Below and above ground biomass and net primary production in a paleotropical natural forest (Sulawesi, Indonesia) as compared to neotropical forest. For Ecol Manag 258(9):1904–1912

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hill BH, Bolgrien DW, Herlihy AT, Jicha TM, Angradi TR (2011) A synoptic survey of nitrogen and phosphorus in tributary streams and great rivers of the Upper Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio river basins. Water Air Soil Pollut 216:605–619

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Huggett RJ (1998) Soil chronosequences, soil development, and soil evolution: a critical review. Catena 32:155–172

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Jaetzold R, Schmidt H (1983) Farm management handbook of Kenya, vol 2 Natural Conditions and Farm Management Information, Part A. West Kenya. Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Kenya, 319 pp

  27. Johnson MS, Lehmann J, Couto EG, Novaes-Filho JP, Riha S (2006a) DOC and DIC in flowpaths of Amazonian headwater catchments with hydrologically contrasting soils. Biogeochemistry 81:45–57

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Johnson MS, Lehmann J, Selva EC, Abdo M, Riha S, Cuoto EG (2006b) Organic carbon fluxes within and streamwater exports from headwater catchments in the southern Amazon. Hydrol Process 20:2599–2614

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Johnson MS, Lehmann J, Riha SJ, Krusche AV, Richey JE, Ometto JPHB, Couto EG (2008) CO2 efflux from Amazonian headwater streams represents a significant fate for deep soil respiration. Geophys Res Lett 35:L17401

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2010) The Kenya census 2009 report. Government of Kenya. http://www.knbs.or.ke/. Accessed 15 May 2012

  31. Kimetu JM (2009) Soil organic matter revitalization: implications on food production and security in tropical agricultural systems. PhD dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

  32. Kimetu JM, Lehmann J (2010) Stability and stabilisation of biochar and greem manure in soil with different organic carbon contents. Aust J Soil Res 48:577–585

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Kimetu JM, Lehmann J, Ngoze S, Mugendi D, Kinyangi J, Riha S, Verchot L, Recha JW, Pell A (2008) Reversibility of soil productivity decline with organic matter of differing quality along a degradation gradient. Ecosystems 11(5):726–739

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Kimetu JM, Lehmann J, Kinyangi JM, Cheng CH, Thies J, Mugendi DN, Pell A (2009) Soil organic C stabilization and thresholds in C saturation. Soil Biol Biochem 41:2100–2104

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. King KW, Balogh JC (2011) Stream water nutrient enrichment in a mixed-use watershed. J Environ Monit 13:721–731

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Kinyangi JM (2008) Soil degradation, thresholds and dynamics of long-term cultivation: from landscape biogeochemistry to nanoscale biogeocomplexity. PhD dissertation Cornell University

  37. Krull ES, Bestland EA, Gates WP (2002) Soil organic matter decomposition and turnover in a tropical ultisol: evidence from δ13C, δ13N and geochemistry. Radiocarbon 44(1):93–112

    Google Scholar 

  38. Lal R (2006) Enhancing crop yields in the developing countries through restoration of the soil organic carbon pool in agricultural lands. Land Degrad Dev 17:197–209

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Lalah JO, Wandiga SO (2006) Extinction coefficients and dissolved organic carbon content in freshwater in Kenya. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 77:533–542

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. Lesack LFW (1993) Export of nutrients and major ionic solutes from a rain forest catchment in central Amazonian Basin. Water Resour Res 29(3):743–758

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  41. Lesack LFW, Hecky RE, Melack JM (1984) Transport of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and major solutes in the Gambia River, West Africa. Limnol Oceanogr 29:816–830

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  42. Lewandowski J, Nutzmann G (2010) Nutrient retention and release in a floodplain’s aquifer and in the hyporheic zone of a lowland river. Ecol Eng 36:1156–1166

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Likens GE, Bormann FH (1995) Biogeochemistry of a forested ecosystem, 2nd edn. Springer, New York 159p

    Book  Google Scholar 

  44. Lung T, Schaab G (2006) Assessing fragmentation and disturbance of west Kenyan rainforests by means of remotely sensed time series data and landscape metrics. Afr J Ecol 44:491–506

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Malmer A (1996) Hydrological effects and nutrient losses of forest plantation establishment on tropical rainforest land in Sabah, Malaysia. J Hydrol 174:129–148

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  46. Malmer A, Grip H (1990) Soil disturbance and loss of infiltrability caused by mechanized and manual extraction of tropical rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia. For Ecol Manag 38:1–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Mann LK (1986) Changes in soil carbon after cultivation. Soil Sci 142:279–288

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  48. Markewitz D, Davidson EA, Figueiredo RO, Victoria RL, Krusche AV (2001) Control of cation concentrations in stream waters by surface soil processes in an Amazonian watershed. Nature 410:802–805

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. Markewitz D, Davidson EA, Moutinho P, Nepstad D (2004) Nutrient loss and redistribution after forest clearing on a highly weathered soil in Amazonia. Ecol Appl 14(Suppl 4):S177–S199

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. McLauchlan K (2006) The nature and longevity of agricultural impacts on soil carbon and nutrients: a review. Ecosystems 9:1364–1382

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  51. Mehlich A (1984) Mehlich 3 soil test extract: a modification of Mehlich 2 extractant. Comm Soil Sci Plant Anal 15:1409–1416

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  52. Moebius-Clune BN, van Es HM, Idowu OJ, Schindelbeck RR, Kimetu JM, Ngoze S, Lehmann J, Kinyangi JM (2011) Long-term soil quality degradation along a cultivation chronosequence in Western Kenya. Agric Ecosyst Environ 141:86–99

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  53. Moore S, Gauci V, Evans CD, Paage SE (2010) Fluvial organic carbon losses from a Bornean blackwater river. Biogeosci Discuss 7:8319–8343

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Nair VD, Graetz DA (2004) Agroforestry as an approach to minimizing nutrient loss from heavily fertilized soils: the Florida experience. Agrofor Syst 61:269–279

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Ngoze SO (2008) Soil nutrient depletion and repletion in a tropical agroecosystem. PhD dissertation, Cornell University

  56. Ngoze SO, Riha S, Lehmann J, Verchot L, Kinyangi J, Mbugua D, Pell A (2008) Nutrient constraints to tropical productivity in long-term degrading soils. Global Change Biol 14:1–13

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Noguchi S, Abdul Rahim N, Baharuddin K, Sammori T, Tani M, Morisada S (1997) Rainfall-runoff responses and role of soil moisture variations to the response in tropical rain forest, Bukit Tarek Peninsular Malaysia. J For Resour 2:115–120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Pandey CB, Singh GB, Singh SK, Singh RK (2010) Soil nitrogen and microbial biomass carbon dynamics in native forests and derived agricultural land uses in humid tropical climate of India. Plant Soil 333:453–467

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  59. Proctor J, Phillips C, Duff GK, Heaney A, Robertson FM (1989) Ecological study of Gunung Silam, a small ultrabasic mountain in Sabah Malaysia II. Some forest processes. J Ecol 77:317–331

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  60. Qian J, Mopper K (1996) An automated, high performance, high temperature combustion dissolved organic carbon analyzer. Anal Chem 68(18):3090–3097

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  61. Raymond PA, Saiers JE (2010) Event controlled DOC export from forested watersheds. Biogeochemistry 100:197–209

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Recha J, Lehmann J, Walter M, Pell A, Verchot L, Johnson M (2012) Stream discharge in tropical headwater catchments as a result of forest clearing and soil degradation. Earth Interact: published online. doi:10.1175/2012EI000439.1

  63. Richey JE, Melack JM, Aufdenkampe AK, Ballester VM, Hess LL (2002) Outgassing from Amazonian rivers and wetlands as a large tropical source of atmospheric CO2. Nature 416:617–620

    Google Scholar 

  64. Rubio-Arias H, Quintana C, Jimenez-Castro C, Quintana R, Gutierrez M (2010) Contamination of the Conchos River in Mexico: does it pose a health risk to local residents? Int J Environ Res Public Health 7:2071–2084

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  65. Salmon SD, Walter MT, Hedin LO, Brown MG (2001) Hydrological controls on chemical export from undisturbed old-growth Chilean forest. J Hydrol 253:69–80

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  66. Scheren PAGM, Zanting HA, Lemmens AMC (2000) Estimation of water pollution sources in Lake Victoria, East Africa: application and elaboration of the rapid assessment methodology. J Environ Manag 58:235–248

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Schipper LA, Baisden WT, Parfitt RL, Ross C, Claydon JJ, Arnold G (2007) Large losses of soil C and N from soil profiles under pasture in New Zealand during the past 20 years. Global Change Biol 13:1138–1144

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Selva EC, Couto EG, Johnson MS, Lehmann J (2007) Litterfall production and fluvial export in headwater catchments of the southern Amzon. J Trop Ecol 23:329–335

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Soil Survey Staff (2003) Keys to soil taxonomy, 9th edn. USDA-Soil Conservation Service, Pocahontas Press, Blacksburg 332p

    Google Scholar 

  70. Solomon D, Lehmann J, Kinyangi J, Amelung W, Lobe I, Pell A, Riha S, Ngoze S, Verchot L, Mbugua D, Skjemstad J, Schäfer T (2007) Long-term impacts of anthropogenic perturbations on dynamics and speciation of organic carbon in tropical forest and subtropical grassland ecosystems. Global Change Biol 13(2):511–530

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Spaans EJA, Baltissen GAM, Bouma J, Miedeme R, Lansu ALE, Schoonderbeek D, Wielemaker WG (1989) Changes in physical properties of young and old volcanic surface soils in Costa Rica after clearing of tropical rain forest. Hydrol Process 3:383–392

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Storer DA (1984) A simple high sample volume ashing procedure for determination of soil organic matter. Comm Soil Sci Plant Anal 15(7):759–772

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  73. Stutter MI, Langan SJ, Cooper RJ (2008) Spatial and temporal dynamics of stream water particulate and dissolved N, P and C forms along a catchment transect, NE Scotland. J Hydrol 350:187–202

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  74. Swallow BM, Sang JK, Nyabenge M, Bundotich DK, Duraiappah AK, Yatich TB (2009) Tradeoffs, synergies and traps among ecosystem services in the Lake Victoria basin of East Africa. Environ Sci Policy 12:504–519

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Thomas SM, Neill C, Deegan LA, Krusche AV, Ballester VM, Victoria RL (2004) Influences of land use and stream size on particulate and dissolved materials in a small Amazonian stream network. Biogeochemistry 68:135–151

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  76. Tilman D, Cassman KG, Matson PA, Naylor R, Polasky S (2002) Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nature 418:671–677

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  77. Tsujimura M, Onda Y, Ito J (2001) Stream water chemistry in a steep headwater basin with high relief. Hydrol Process 15:1847–1858

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Veneklaas EJ (1991) Litterfall and nutrient fluxes in two montane tropical rain forests Colombia. J Trop Ecol 7:319–336

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Verschuren D, Johnson TC, Kling HJ, Edgington DN, Leavitt PR, Brown ET, Talbot MR, Hecky RE (2002) History and timing of human impact on Lake Victoria, East Africa. Proc R Soc Lond B 269:289–294

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Vidal-Abarca MR, Suarez ML, Guerrero C, Velaso J, Moreno JL, Millan A, Peran A (2001) Dynamics of dissolved and particulate organic carbon in a saline and semiarid stream of southeast Spain (Chicamo stream). Hydrobiologia 455:71–78

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  81. Waldron S, Flowers H, Arlaud C, Bryant C, McFarlane S (2009) The significance of organic carbon and nutrient export from peatland-dominted landscapes subject to disturbance, a stoichiometric perspective. Biogeosciences 6:363–374

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  82. Werner C, Kiese R, Butterbach-Bahl K (2007) Soil-atmosphere exchange of N2O, CH4, and CO2 and controlling environmental factors for tropical rain forest sites in western Kenya. J Geophys Res 112(1–15):D03308

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Williams MR, Melack JM (1997) Solute export from forested and partially deforested catchments in the central Amazon. Biogeochemistry 38:67–102

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  84. Williams MR, Fisher TR, Melack JM (1997) Solute dynamics in soil water and groundwater in central Amazon catchment undergoing deforestation. Biogeochemistry 38:303–335

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  85. Young K, Morse GK, Scrimshaw MD, Kinniburgh JH, MacLeod CL, Lester JN (1999) The relation between phosphorus and eutrophication in the Thames catchment, UK. Sci Total Environ 228:157–183

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  86. Yu J, Ho W, Lu H, Yang Y (2011) Study of water quality and genotoxicity of surface microlayer and subsurface water in Guangzhou section of Pearl River. Environ Monit Assess 174:681–692

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  87. Yusop Z, Douglas I, Nik RA (2006) Export of dissolved and undissolved nutrients from forested catchments in Peninsular Malaysia. For Ecol Manag 224:26–44

    Article  Google Scholar 

  88. Zulkifli Y (1990) Effects of logging on streamwater quality and input-output budgets in small watersheds in Peninsular Malaysia. MSc. thesis, Universiti Pertanian Malaysia

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Brett Gleitsmann for assistance in identifying the study sites, constructing the weirs and doing initial sampling. We thank Henry Biwott for help with field work and Stephen DeGloria for help with GIS. This research was financially supported in part by grants from the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, the National Science Foundation Grant No. 0215890 through CIIFAD, the Biogeochemistry and Environmental Biocomplexity Small Grant Program Ref. DGE 0221658, Towards Sustainability Fund, the Institute for African Development and the Norman Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program Fellowship. Logistical support was provided by the World Agroforestry Centre Kisumu office. We thank two anonymous referees for their valuable suggestions.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Johannes Lehmann.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Recha, J.W., Lehmann, J., Walter, M.T. et al. Stream water nutrient and organic carbon exports from tropical headwater catchments at a soil degradation gradient. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 95, 145–158 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10705-013-9554-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Carbon
  • Cultivation
  • Degradation gradient
  • Forest conversion
  • Headwater catchment
  • Nutrients