Landcover changes and delta13C composition of riverine particulate organic matter in the Piracicaba River Basin (southeast region of Brazil)

Martinelli, Luiz A., Maria Victoria Ballester, Alex V. Krusche, Reynaldo L. Victoria, Plinio B. de Camargo, Marcelo Bernardes, Jean P. H. B. Ometto

Limnol. Oceanogr., 44(7), 1999, 1826-1833 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.1999.44.7.1826

ABSTRACT: Assuming the paradigm that catchment vegetation is the main source of particulate organic matter (POM) to rivers, the main objective of this study was to determine what the proportion of original C3 carbon from the forest had already been replaced by C4 carbon from sugar cane and pasture in the rivers of the Piracicaba Basin. In order to achieve this objective, we first produced a detailed landcover map using Landsat5-TM images, and then we measured the carbon stable isotopic composition of the particulate riverine organic matter (δ13C-POM) in seven sites along the major rivers and in two sites along a small creek. Sugar cane and pasture (C4 plants) covered almost 60% of the basin area, while silviculture, mostly of other crops, citrus, and forest that are C3 plants, covered 35%. Isotopic studies conducted in large pristine tropical rivers of South America and of Africa have shown that catchment vegetation is the main source of carbon in suspended POM. Our study demonstrates that relatively recent changes (70-80 yr ago) in landcover in the Piracicaba River Basin have already affected the composition of the riverine POM. Therefore, as in natural ecosystems, the vegetation (allochthonous source) plays an important role in the composition of the riverine POM in agricultural systems such as the Piracicaba River Basin. This control can be supported by the good correlation between cumulative area of the basin covered with C4 plants and the δ13C of the riverine POM. However, our study, differently from others, also shows that, during the low water period, in situ processes, such as primary production, may be an important source of carbon to the riverine POM.

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