Nutrient availability modulates the effect of water abstraction on the metabolism of 2 lowland forested streams

Pardo, Isabel; Kuglerová, Lenka; García, Liliana; Martí, Eugènia. Freshwater Science 41(2) : doi:10.1086/719990 (2022)  DIGITAL CSIC 

Climate change predictions for Southern Europe indicate an increase in the frequency and duration of summer low flows and water scarcity in streams. Droughts can cause substantial changes in aquatic communities and biogeochemical processes because they modify stream environmental conditions. Among the many physical, chemical, and biological variables that influence stream metabolism, nutrients may affect algae and heterotrophic microorganisms, and nutrient concentrations may vary with reduction in water discharge. We experimentally manipulated stream discharge and used a before–after control–impact paired design to assess how reduction of stream discharge affected metabolism (i.e., ecosystem respiration [ER] and gross primary production [GPP]). The study was done in 2 lowland forested streams in northwestern Spain with contrasting nutrient concentrations (i.e., mesotrophic: Caselas stream; eutrophic: Pego stream). In the 2 streams, metabolism was estimated before and after discharge manipulation. Prior to discharge reduction, the 2 streams were heterotrophic (i.e., GPP∶ER < 1), and GPP and ER were related in the eutrophic Pego. Discharge reduction increased GPP at the impacted reaches of the mesotrophic Caselas and decoupled GPP and ER at the Pego. An information-theoretic approach was used to assess which combinations of physical, chemical, and biological variables were most important to explain the variation in ER and GPP under the different hydrologic conditions. The observed differences between the 2 streams suggest that the metabolic response to stream drought can be modulated by the interplay between nutrient availability and the density of consumers feeding on resources, among other environmental variables. We show that longer summer periods and reduced stream discharge have the potential to increase daily hypoxia in nutrient-rich lowland stream ecosystems. Increased hypoxia can threaten biodiversity of stream ecosystems and reduce consumer pressure on basal instream resources, such as algae, bacteria, and fungi, which may, in turn, favor instream GPP. In addition, drying conditions seemed to favor autotrophic over heterotrophic activity under moderate nutrient availability (i.e., increase in the GPP∶ER ratio in the impacted Caselas reaches). Therefore, drought conditions not only affect overall daily rates of metabolic activity, but also the relative importance of different energy sources and organic matter for instream function. Our results show that discharge reduction caused by increased water scarcity, due to both climate change and water demand by human activities, can influence energy flow and organic matter dynamics through effects on the metabolism of forested lowland streams.