Multiscale influences on physical and chemical stream conditions across blue ridge landscapes

Mark C. Scott, Gene S. Helfman, Matthew E. McTammany, E. Fred Benfield, Paul V. Bolstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations

Abstract

Streams integrate biogeochemical processes operating at broad to local spatial scales and long term to short term time scales. Humans have extensively altered those processes in North America, with serious consequences for aquatic ecosystems. We collected data on Upper Tennessee River tributaries in North Carolina to: (1) compare landuse and landscape geomorphology with respect to their ability to explain variation in water quality, sedimentation measures, and large woody debris; (2) determine if landscape change over time contributed significantly to explaining present stream conditions; and (3) assess the importance of spatial scale in examining landuse influences on streams. Stream variables were related to both landuse and landscape geomorphology. Forest cover accounted for the most variation in nearly all models, supporting predictions of nutrient enrichment, thermal pollution, and sedimentation caused by landscape disturbance. Legacy effects from past catchment disturbance were apparent in sedimentation measures. Nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, as well as stream temperature, were lower where riparian buffers had reforested. Models of stream physicochemistry fit better when predictors were catchment wide rather than more localized (i.e., within 2 km of a site). Cumulative impacts to streams due to changes in landuse must be managed from a watershed perspective with quantitative models that integrate across scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1379-1392
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Volume38
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2002

Keywords

  • Catchment landuse
  • Highland water quality
  • Nonpoint source pollution
  • North Carolina, USA
  • Sedimentation
  • Southern Appalachian Mountains
  • Watershed management

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