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Title: Spiraling down the river continuum: stream ecology and the U-shaped curve

Author: Webster, Jackson R.;

Date: 2007

Source: J. N. Am. Benthol. Soc., Vol. 26(3): 375-389

Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication

Description: The spiraling concept provides an explicit approach to modeling the longitudinal linkages within a river continuum. I developed a spiraling-based model for particulate organic C dynamics in the Little Tennessee River to synthesize existing data and to illustrate our current understanding of ecosystem processes in river ecosystems. The Little Tennessee River is a medium-sized river Bowing -100 km through the southern Appalachian Mountains of northern Georgia and western North Carolina (VSA). Across this distance, allochthonous inputs decrease and autochthonous production increases, resulting in a U-shaped curve of energy input. The model was set up as an advecting section compartment interacting with 3 benthic compartments: coarse benthic organic matter, fine benthic organic matter, and autotrophs. Model-estimated ecosystem respiration was consistently lower than measured values, suggesting a need to evaluate our measurements of whole-stream metabolism. Also, model-predicted seston concentrations were generally lower than measured values, reflecting a need to consider additional sources of organic C in the model. For the whole river system, leaves accounted for 19% of inputs, primarily near the headwaters, and the remaining input was from instream primary production in the lower reaches of the river. Almost H of the input was respired, 28% by autotrophic respiration and 21% by heterotrophic respiration, and the remaining 51% was transported downstream. Ecosystem efficiency was -50% along the length of the river, and hunover length increased from several hundred meters at the headwaters to >I00 km downstream. Based on various measures, the transition from heterotrophy to autotrophy ranged from 25 to >I00 km downstream from the headwaters. As this model illustrates, a consequence of downstream transport is that much of the particulate C in streams is metabolized a considerable distance downstream from where it enters the stream. This longitudinal linkage is essential to our understanding of stream ecosystems.

Keywords: stream, model, metabolism, spiraling, river continuum, Little Tennessee River

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Webster, Jackson R. 2007. Spiraling down the river continuum: stream ecology and the U-shaped curve. J. N. Am. Benthol. Soc., Vol. 26(3): 375-389


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