Hydrological connectivity inferred from diatom transport through the riparian-stream system

N. Martinez-Carreras*, C. E. Wetzel, J. Frentress, L. Ector, J. J. McDonnell, L. Hoffmann, L. Pfister

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
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Diatoms (Bacillariophyta) are one of the most common and diverse algal groups (ca. 200 000 species, approximate to 10-200 mu m, unicellular, eukaryotic). Here we investigate the potential of aerial diatoms (i.e. diatoms nearly exclusively occurring outside water bodies, in wet, moist or temporarily dry places) to infer surface hydrological connectivity between hillslope-riparian-stream (HRS) landscape units during storm runoff events. We present data from the Weier-bach catchment (0.45 km(2), northwestern Luxembourg) that quantify the relative abundance of aerial diatom species on hillslopes and in riparian zones (i.e. surface soils, litter, bryophytes and vegetation) and within streams (i.e. stream water, epilithon and epipelon). We tested the hypothesis that different diatom species assemblages inhabit specific moisture domains of the catchment (i.e. HRS units) and, consequently, the presence of certain species assemblages in the stream during runoff events offers the potential for recording whether there was hydrological connectivity between these domains or not. We found that a higher percentage of aerial diatom species was present in samples collected from the riparian and hillslope zones than inside the stream. However, diatoms were absent on hillslopes covered by dry litter and the quantities of diatoms (in absolute numbers) were small in the rest of hillslope samples. This limits their use for inferring hillslope- riparian zone connectivity. Our results also showed that aerial diatom abundance in the stream increased systematically during all sampled events (n = 11, 2011-2012) in response to incident precipitation and increasing discharge. This transport of aerial diatoms during events suggested a rapid connectivity between the soil surface and the stream. Diatom transport data were compared to two-component hydrograph separation, and end-member mixing analysis (EMMA) using stream water chemistry and stable isotope data. Hillslope overland flow was insignificant during most sampled events. This research suggests that diatoms were likely sourced exclusively from the riparian zone, since it was not only the largest aerial diatom reservoir, but also since soil water from the riparian zone was a major stream-flow source during rainfall events under both wet and dry antecedent conditions. In comparison to other tracer methods, diatoms require taxonomy knowledge and a rather large processing time. However, they can provide unequivocal evidence of hydrological connectivity and potentially be used at larger catchment scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3133-3151
Number of pages19
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding for this research was provided by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) in the framework of the BIGSTREAM (C09/SR/14), ECSTREAM (C12/SR/40/8854) and CAOS (INTER/DFG/11/01) projects. We are most grateful to the Administration des Services Techniques de l’Agriculture
(ASTA) for providing meteorological data. We also acknowledge Delphine Collard for technical assistance in diatom sample treatment and preparation, François Barnich for the water chemistry analyses, and Jean-François Iffly, Christophe Hissler, Jérôme Juilleret, Laurent Gourdol and Julian Klaus for their constructive comments on the project and technical assistance in the field.




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