Influence of rural land use on streamwater nutrients and their ecological significance

Jarvie, Helen P.; Withers, Paul J. A.; Hodgkinson, Robin; Bates, Adam; Neal, Margaret; Wickham, Heather D.; Harman, Sarah A.; Armstrong, Linda K.. 2008 Influence of rural land use on streamwater nutrients and their ecological significance. Journal of Hydrology, 350. 166-186.

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Concentrations and loads of N and P fractions were examined for lowland rivers,the Wye and Avon, draining a range of representative agricultural land-use types in two major UK river basins. Data collected over a 2-year period demonstrated important diffuse agricultural source contributions to N and P loads in these rivers. Ground water provided a major source of total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) loads, whereas near-surface sources provided a major contribution to total phosphorus (TP) loads. In terms of aquatic ecology, concentrations of nutrients, at times of eutrophication risk (spring and summer low flows) were of key environmental and management significance. Agricultural diffuse sources provided the major source of long-term P loads across the two basins. However, the results demonstrated the dominance of point-source contributions to TP and SRP concentrations at times of ecological risk. Point sources typically ‘tip the balance’ of dissolved inorganic P (soluble reactive P, SRP) above the 100 lg l1 guideline value indicative of eutrophication risk. The significance of point sources for TP and SRP concentrations was shown by (a) the strong correlations between TP, SRP and B concentrations, using B as a tracer of sewage effluent, (b) the dominant contribution of SRP to TP concentrations and (c) the predominant pattern of dilution of SRP and B with flow. The clean Chalk streams draining low intensity grassland in areas of the Avon with sparse human settlement were oligotrophic and P limited with low SRP concentrations under spring and summer baseflows attributable to groundwater sources. The data provide important insights into the ecological functioning of different lowland stream systems. There was evidence of greater SRP losses and N-limitation in a stream which drains a pond system, demonstrating the importance of longer water residence times for biological nutrient uptake.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Water > WA02 Quantifying processes that link water quality and quantity, biota and physical environment > WA02.2 Hydrochemical and sediment processes
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Acreman
ISSN: 0022-1694
Additional Keywords: agriculture, sewage, nitrogen, phosphorus, river, ecology
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 12 Jun 2008 12:52 +0 (UTC)

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