Long-term dynamics of organic matter and elements exported as coarse particulates from two Caribbean montane watersheds

TitleLong-term dynamics of organic matter and elements exported as coarse particulates from two Caribbean montane watersheds
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsHeartsill-Scalley, T, Scantena, FN, Moya, S, Lugo, AE
JournalJournal of Tropical Ecology
Accession NumberLUQ.1088
Keywordsallochthonous, coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM), elements, export, leaves, litterfall, nutrients, Puerto Rico, streams

In heterotrophic streams the retention and export of coarse particulate organic matter and associated elements are fundamental biogeochemical processes that influence water quality, food webs and the structural complexity of forested headwater streams. Nevertheless, few studies have documented the quantity and quality of exported organic matter over multiple years and under a range of conditions that includes both droughts and hurricanes. This study quantifies the export of coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM, > 12.7 mm), over 18 y in two headwater streams in north-east Puerto Rico. Daily exports ranged from 0 to over 170 g ha−1 d−1 and averaged 7.39 g ha−1 d−1,with similar amounts coming from leaves (3.5 g ha−1 d−1) and wood (3.2 g ha−1 d−1). Export of coarse particulate organic carbon was 3.0 g ha−1 d−1 which constitutes only 1.32% of carbon exports.Most litter falling into the streams was processed in place as only 2.3% of the leaf litter falling directly into these perennial channels was exported as CPOM. On average, 6 wk y−1 had no exports while events transporting more than 10 g ha−1 d−1 occurred every 2.8 mo. Instead of a single annual pulse as observed in deciduous systems, there were annual peaks in CPOM exports during May and September and less export during the drier period from December to February. Ratios of C:N in the exportedmaterial were highest in the driest month and lowest during rainymonths, while leaf fluxes for nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium were highest in rainy months and lowest during February. Although median daily exports and exports during low- and base-flow periods were similar before and after Hugo, after 16 y exports during moderateand high-flow periods were still less than those in the 2 y prior to the hurricane. Our observations indicate a system with high rates of internal processing that quickly returns to median daily conditions following hurricanes but requires several decades for storm-flow exports to return to pre-disturbance conditions and indicates that the long-term pattern of CPOM export is associated with the level of maturity of watershed vegetation. Also access article in: http://www.fs.fed.us/global/iitf/pubs/ja_iitf_2012_Heartsill001.pdf