Organic matter dynamics and stable isotope signature as tracers of the sources of suspended sediment
Suspended sediment (SS) and organic matter in rivers can harm brown trout Salmo trutta by affecting the health and fitness of free swimming fish and by causing siltation of the riverbed. The temporal and spatial dynamics of sediment, carbon (C), and nitrogen (N) during the brown trout spawning season in a small river of the Swiss Plateau were assessed and C isotopes as well as the C/N atomic ratio were used to distinguish autochthonous and allochthonous sources of organic matter in SS loads. The visual basic program IsoSource with 13C tot and 15N as input isotopes was used to quantify the temporal and spatial sources of SS. Organic matter concentrations in the infiltrated and suspended sediment were highest during low flow periods with small sediment loads and lowest during high flow periods with high sediment loads. Peak values in nitrate and dissolved organic C were measured during high flow and high rainfall, probably due to leaching from pasture and arable land. The organic matter was of allochthonous sources as indicated by the C/N atomic ratio and δ 13C org. Organic matter in SS increased from up- to downstream due to an increase of pasture and arable land downstream of the river. The mean fraction of SS originating from upper watershed riverbed sediment decreased from up to downstream and increased during high flow at all measuring sites along the course of the river. During base flow conditions, the major sources of SS are pasture, forest and arable land. The latter increased during rainy and warmer winter periods, most likely because both triggered snow melt and thus erosion. The measured increase in DOC and nitrate concentrations during high flow support these modeling results. Enhanced soil erosion processes on pasture and arable land are expected with increasing heavy rain events and less snow during winter seasons due to climate change. Consequently, SS and organic matter in the river will increase, which will possibly affect brown trout negatively.