Influence of land use on water quality in a tropical landscape: a multi-scale analysis

TitleInfluence of land use on water quality in a tropical landscape: a multi-scale analysis
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsUriarte, M, Yackulic, CB, Lim, Y, Arce-Nazario, JA
JournalLandscape Ecology
Accession NumberLUQ.1009
KeywordsAgricultural abandonment, Forest transition, Puerto Rico, Urbanization, Watershed ecosystem services

There is a pressing need to understand the consequences of human activities, such as land transformations,on watershed ecosystem services. This is a challenging task because different indicators of water quality and yield are expected to vary in their responsiveness to large versus local-scale heterogeneity in land use and land cover (LUC). Here we rely on water quality data collected between 1977 and 2000 from dozens of gauge stations in Puerto Rico together with precipitation data and land cover maps to (1) quantify impacts of spatial heterogeneity in LUC on several water quality indicators; (2) determine the spatial scale at which this heterogeneity influences water quality; and (3) examine how antecedent precipitation modulates these impacts. Our models explained 30–58% of observed variance in water quality metrics. Temporal variation in antecedent precipitation and changes in LUC between measurements periods rather than spatial variation in LUC accounted for the majority of variation in water quality. Urbanization and pasture development generally degraded water quality while agriculture and secondary forest regrowth had mixed impacts. The spatial scale over which LUC influenced water quality differed across indicators. Turbidity and dissolved oxygen (DO) responded to LUC in large-scale watersheds, in-stream nitrogen concentrations to LUC in riparian buffers of large watersheds, and fecal matter content and instream phosphorus concentration to LUC at the subwatershed scale. Stream discharge modulated impacts of LUC on water quality for most of the metrics. Our findings highlight the importance of considering multiple spatial scales for understanding the impacts of human activities on watershed ecosystem services.