Controls on carbon and nitrogen export in an eroding catchment of south-eastern Queensland, Australia
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Effects of gully and channel erosion on the export of sediments are in general well understood, but the effects on carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) export remain an open question. We examined these effects and the role of flow magnitude, total wet season rainfall, catchment size and the C and N content and solubility of most probable sediment sources in a subtropical catchment. We sampled the baseflow and the rising stage of high-flow events for one wet season and analysed 5?years of water quality data from event sampling stations. Total suspended sediment was the main variable explaining N export followed by rainfall, flow and catchment size. N was exported mainly in particulate organic form and C in dissolved form. The quality of most probable sediment source fractions explains these results and points to fractionation during transport into C and N richer and C and N poorer fractions, with travel distance ultimately determining the average quality of transported sediment for different flow magnitudes. Erosion would have caused a lower C and N concentration in sediments, a lower proportion of mineralized N, a larger proportion of dissolved organic C and a larger C?:?N ratios of the soluble fraction as compared with unincised grassed valleys. This would alter the rates of nutrient cycling and energy flow within and across ecosystem compartments in streams receiving this export.
Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience not elsewhere classified