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Upstream-to-downstream changes in nutrient export risk

Informally Refereed
Authors: James D. Wickham, Timothy G. Wade, Kurt H. Riitters, R.V. O’Neill, Jonathan H. Smith, Elizabeth R. Smith, K.B. Jones, A.C. Neale
Year: 2003
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: Landscape Ecology 18:195-208


Abstract: Nutrient export coefficients are estimates of the mass of nitrogen (N) or phosphorus (P) normalized by area and time (e.g., kg/ha/yr). They have been estimated most often for watersheds ranging in size from 102 to 104 hect-ares, and have been recommended as measurements to inform management decisions. At this scale, watersheds are often nested upstream and downstream components of larger drainage basins, suggesting nutrient export co-efficients will change from one subwatershed to the next. Nutrient export can be modeled as risk where lack of monitoring data prevents empirical estimation. We modeled N and P export risk for subwatersheds of larger drainage basins, and examined spatial changes in risk from upstream to downstream watersheds. Spatial (sub-watershed) changes in N and P risk were a function of in-stream decay, subwatershed land-cover composition, and subwatershed streamlength. Risk tended to increase in a downstream direction under low rates of in-stream decay, whereas high rates of in-stream decay often reduced risk to zero (0) toward downstream subwatersheds. On average, increases in the modeled rate of in-stream decay reduced risk by 0.44 for N and 0.39 for P. Interactions between in-stream decay, land-cover composition and streamlength produced dramatic changes in risk across subwatersheds in some cases. Comparison of the null cases of no in-stream decay and homogeneously forested subwatersheds with extant conditions indicated that complete forest cover produced greater reductions in nutrient export risk than a high in-stream decay rate, especially for P. High rates of in-stream decay and complete forest cover produced approximately equivalent reductions in N export risk for downstream subwatersheds.


Chesapeake Bay, in-stream nutrient decay, modeling, nitrogen, phosphorus, pollution, watersheds


Wickham, James D.; Wade, Timothy G.; Riitters, Kurt H.; O Neill, R.V.; Smith, Jonathan H.; Smith, Elizabeth R.; Jones, K.B.; Neale, A.C. 2003. Upstream-to-downstream changes in nutrient export risk. Landscape Ecology 18:195-208