TitleAgents of change and temporal nutrient dynamics in the Altamaha River Watershed
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsJoye S.B, Takagi K.K, Hunter K.S., Cai W-J
Date Published01/2017

Nutrient and carbon dynamics in river ecosystems are shifting, and climate change is likely a driving factor; however, some previous studies indicate anthropogenic modification of natural resources may supersede the effects of climate. To understand temporal changes in river ecosystems, consideration of how these agents act independently and collectively to affect watershed biogeochemistry is necessary. Through the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research Project, we assessed nutrient (phosphorus, nitrogen, silicate) and carbon dynamics, with specific regard to import and export, in the Altamaha River Basin from 2000 to 2012. This is the first study in the region to document the biogeochemical patterns in the Altamaha's four main tributaries, the Little Ocmulgee, Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Ohoopee rivers, and the relationships between biogeochemistry and historical precipitation and discharge patterns as well as agricultural and population census data. As discharge patterns are a primary driver of nutrient loads, we determined that water use was a dominant factor in the shifting ecosystem dynamics. Dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads were primarily driven by population density and dissolved inorganic phosphorus loads were strongly influenced by livestock biomass. Taken together, we conclude that both the transportation and biogeochemical cycling of nutrients within the Altamaha River Watershed were highly impacted by anthropogenic influences, which were then further exacerbated by continued climate change. Furthermore, the N- and P-loads in the Altamaha River and tributaries were dominated by dissolved organic nitrogen and dissolved organic phosphorus, emphasizing a need to further study the bioavailability of these species and the mechanisms driving their potential ecological impacts.

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