Carbon fixation and respiration in flowing waterways play significant roles in global and regional carbon budgets, yet how land use and watershed management interact with temporal disturbances (storms) to influence metabolism remains poorly understood. Here, we combine long-term with synoptic sampling of metabolism and its variable controls in neighboring watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay to resolve limiting factors and critical timescales associated with recovery from disturbance. We found that, relative to predictions of the river continuum concept, focal streams have “disrupted” carbon cycles, with carbon balances closer to zero, and, in some cases, tighter coupling between gross primary production (GPP) and ecosystem respiration (ER), attributable to carbon limitation. Carbon became limiting to ER where flashy storm hydrographs and simplified channel geomorphology inhibited accumulation of fine sediment. Shannon entropy analysis of timescales revealed that fine sediment served as a time-release capsule for nutrients and carbon over 4–6 months, fueling biogeochemical transformations. Loss of fines through hydraulic disturbance had up to 30-d impacts on GPP and 50-d impacts on ER in the stream with carbon limitation. In contrast, where GPP and ER were not tightly coupled, recovery occurred within 1 d. Results suggest that a complex interplay between nutrient and carbon limitation and mechanical and chemical disturbance governs patterns and consequences of disrupted carbon cycling in urban streams. Carbon limitation and tight GPP/ER coupling enhance the vulnerability of stream ecosystem functions, but best management practices that target stormflow reduction and channel geomorphic diversity can break that coupling and minimize carbon cycle disruptions.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Disrupted carbon cycling in restored and unrestored urban streams: Critical timescales and controls|
|Series title||Limnology and Oceanography|
|Contributing office(s)||National Research Program - Eastern Branch|