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Land-use effects on the chemical attributes of low-order streams in the eastern Amazon

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Abstract

[1] Deforestation is altering small catchment hydrobiogeochemistry in the Amazon. To evaluate land use change effects on water chemistry and other measures of water quality, five low-order streams were studied in the eastern Amazon from April 2003 to October 2005. It was hypothesized that 1) cation loads would increase downstream as the area of cleared forest increased, particularly during the wet season, 2) increasing forest to pasture conversion would increase total solute loads, and 3) nitrate concentrations, which are high under mature forest, would decline with conversion to pasture, but would increase with increasing row crop agriculture. The first hypothesis was generally not supported, as there was no consistent observed increase in conductivity or cation concentrations from upstream to downstream. However, elevated wet-season measures of conductivity, alkalinity, and turbidity indicated increased wet season surface runoff of these constituents, with seasonal changes largest in the watersheds that had experienced the most deforestation. The second hypothesis was supported when all data were pooled in a mixed-model analysis such that conductivity declined with increasing percent forest or increased with increasing percent pasture; however, similar correlations with cations were not significant. The third hypothesis was supported, with decreasing nitrate concentrations observed as forest cover declined and pasture cover increased from upstream to downstream positions, except where crops were grown near the stream, which was associated with increased stream nitrate. In addition, stream temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH were negatively correlated with percent forest cover while sodium, chloride, and turbidity also increased with percent crop cover. Turbidity, temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen appear to be the simplest and most indicative parameters for detecting effects of land-use change on water quality in this region.

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