Articles | Volume 6, issue 3
13 Mar 2009
 | 13 Mar 2009

The significance of organic carbon and nutrient export from peatland-dominated landscapes subject to disturbance, a stoichiometric perspective

S. Waldron, H. Flowers, C. Arlaud, C. Bryant, and S. McFarlane

Abstract. The terrestrial-aquatic interface is a crucial environment in which to consider the fate of exported terrestrial carbon in the aquatic system. Here the fate of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) may be controlled by nutrient availability. However, peat-dominated headwater catchments are normally of low nutrient status and thus there is little data on how DOC and nutrient export co-varies. We present nutrient and DOC data for two UK catchments dominated by peat headwaters. One, Whitelee, is undergoing development for Europe's largest windfarm. Glen Dye by comparison is relatively undisturbed. At both sites there are significant linear relationships between DOC and soluble reactive phosphorus and nitrate concentrations in the drainage waters. However, inter-catchment differences exist. Changes in the pattern of nutrient and carbon export at Whitelee reveal that landscape disturbance associated with windfarm development impacts the receiving waters, and that nutrient export does not increase in a stoichiometric manner that will promote increase in microbial biomass but rather supports aquatic respiration. In turn greater CO2 efflux may prevail. Hence disturbance of terrestrial carbon stores may impact the both the aquatic and gaseous carbon cycle. We suggest estimates of aquatic carbon export should inform the decision-making process prior to development in ecosystems and catchments with high terrestrial carbon storage.

Final-revised paper