Urbanization changes the composition and bioavailability of dissolved organic matter in headwater streams


Population growth in cities has resulted in the rapid expansion of urbanized land. Most research and management of stream ecosystems affected by urban expansion has focused on the maintenance and restoration of biotic communities rather than their basal resources. We examined the potential for urbanization to induce bottom-up ecosystem effects by looking at its influence on dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition and bioavailability and microbial enzyme activity. We selected 113 headwater streams across a gradient of urbanization in central and southern Maine and used elemental and optical analyses, including parallel factor analysis of excitation-emission matrices, to characterize DOM composition. Results show that fluorescent and stoichiometric DOM composition changed significantly across the rural to urban gradient. Specifically, the proportion of humic-like allochthonous DOM decreased while that of more bioavailable autochthonous DOM increased in the more urbanized streams. In laboratory incubations, increased autochthonous DOM was associated with a doubling in the decay rate of dissolved organic carbon as well as increased activity of C-acquiring enzymes. These results suggest that urbanization replaces upstream humic material with more local sources of DOM that turnover more rapidly and may drive bottom-up changes in microbial communities and affect the quality and quantity of downstream DOM delivery.

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Limnology and Oceanography

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