SREL Reprint #1840





Forest sources and pathways of organic matter transport to a blackwater stream: a hydrologic approach

Division of Biogeochemistry, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Drawer E, Aiken, SC 29802, USA

Abstract. Quantitative information regarding landscape sources and pathways of organic matter transport to streams is important for assessing impacts of terrestrial processes on aquatic ecosystems. We quantified organic C, a measure of organic matter, flowing from a blackwater stream draining a 12.6 km2 watershed on the upper Atlantic Coastal Plain in South Carolina, and utilized a hydrologic approach to partition this outflow between its various pathways from upland and wetland forest sources. Results of this study indicate that 28.9 tonnes C yr-1 were exported in stream flow, which was estimated to be 0.5% of the annual C input from forest detritus to the watershed. Upland forest, which covers 94% of the watershed area, contributed only 2.0 tonnes C yr-1 to stream flow, which amounted to 0.04% of detritus annually produced by the upland forest. Organic matter was transported from uplands to the stream almost entirely through groundwater. Apparently, upland soils are too sandy to support overland flow, and the sloping topography insufficiently extensive or steep enough to drive important quantities of interflow. Riparian wetland forest, which covers only 6% of the watershed area, contributed 26.9 tonnes C yr- 1 to stream flow, amounting to about 10.2% of detritus annually produced by the wetland forest. Dissolved organic C leached from wetland soil accounted for 63% of all organic C entering the stream, and was transported chiefly in baseflow. These results indicate that upland detritus sources are effectively decoupled from the stream despite the sandy soils and quantitatively confirm that even small riparian wetland areas can have a dominant effect on the overall organic matter budget of a blackwater stream. In view of the recognized importance of dissolved organic matter in facilitating transport of other substances (e.g., cation nutrients, metals, and insoluble organic compounds), our results suggest that the potential for movement of these substances through wetland soils to streams in this region is high.

Key words: Atlantic Coastal Plain, blackwater stream, carbon budget, dissolved organic carbon, riparian wetlands, water quality

SREL Reprint #1840

Dosskey, M.G. and P.M. Bertsch. 1994. Forest sources and pathways of organic matter transport to a blackwater stream: a hydrologic approach. Biogeochemistry 24:1-19.

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