Biogeochemical cycling at the aquatic–terrestrial interface is linked to parafluvial hyporheic zone inundation history
Abstract. The parafluvial hyporheic zone combines the heightened biogeochemical and microbial interactions indicative of a hyporheic region with direct atmospheric/terrestrial inputs and the effects of wet–dry cycles. Therefore, understanding biogeochemical cycling and microbial interactions in this ecotone is fundamental to understanding biogeochemical cycling at the aquatic–terrestrial interface and to creating robust hydrobiogeochemical models of dynamic river corridors. We aimed to (i) characterize biogeochemical and microbial differences in the parafluvial hyporheic zone across a small spatial domain (6 lateral meters) that spans a breadth of inundation histories and (ii) examine how parafluvial hyporheic sediments respond to laboratory-simulated re-inundation. Surface sediment was collected at four elevations along transects perpendicular to flow of the Columbia River, eastern WA, USA. The sediments were inundated by the river 0, 13, 127, and 398 days prior to sampling. Spatial variation in environmental variables (organic matter, moisture, nitrate, glucose, % C, % N) and microbial communities (16S and internal transcribed spacer (ITS) rRNA gene sequencing, qPCR) were driven by differences in inundation history. Microbial respiration did not differ significantly across inundation histories prior to forced inundation in laboratory incubations. Forced inundation suppressed microbial respiration across all histories, but the degree of suppression was dramatically different between the sediments saturated and unsaturated at the time of sample collection, indicating a binary threshold response to re-inundation. We present a conceptual model in which irregular hydrologic fluctuations facilitate microbial communities adapted to local conditions and a relatively high flux of CO2. Upon rewetting, microbial communities are initially suppressed metabolically, which results in lower CO2 flux rates primarily due to suppression of fungal respiration. Following prolonged inundation, the microbial community adapts to saturation by shifting composition, and the CO2 flux rebounds to prior levels due to the subsequent change in respiration. Our results indicate that the time between inundation events can push the system into alternate states: we suggest (i) that, above some threshold of inundation interval, re-inundation suppresses respiration to a consistent, low rate and (ii) that, below some inundation interval, re-inundation has a minor effect on respiration. Extending reactive transport models to capture processes that govern such dynamics will provide more robust predictions of river corridor biogeochemical function under altered surface water flow regimes in both managed and natural watersheds.