The Multi-Scale Response of Water quality, Biodiversity and C Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Soils and Land Use (Bangor)

Abstract

Catchment research has traditionally been focussed on the science and management of water flow and quality. In recent years, achieving good ecological status and compliance with the Water Framework Directive has been a priority. This has been challenging not least because the majority of rivers in the UK are heavily polluted with nitrogen, phosphorus, and a range of contaminants including pathogens and transfers of dissolved organic C from upland areas are increasing. These can be detrimental to the ecology of rivers and coastal waters, be a risk for human health and increases costs of the water industry. Following the publication of the National Ecosystem Assessment (2011) and the Government's White Paper on the Natural Environment (2011), catchment managers face an even greater challenge trying to ensure water resource objectives do not compromise delivery of other functions which deliver a range of regulating, provisioning or cultural services which we all benefit from. Underpinning delivery of these ecosystem services are basic ecosystem processes such as carbon fixation by plants and the return of carbon back to the atmosphere through decomposition (the carbon cycle), the cycling of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus through plants, soil, water and the atmosphere and detoxification of a range of contaminants including pathogens. Much is known concerning the individual carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus (C, N and P) and contaminant cycles, however the coupling of these cycles through the landscape and the subsequent impacts on the natural environment and the services provided are rarely studied.

To respond to this gap in our current understanding we will address two research questions. The first is when, where and how do coupled macronutrient cycles (of C, N and P) affect the the functioning of the natural environment within and between landscape units at the catchment scale? The second is how will these coupled cycles alter under land use, air pollution, and climate-change and what will be the effect on water quality, carbon sequestration and biodiversity (three important ecosyststem services) at both catchment and national scale?

To achieve this, we will quantify the fluxes, transformations and coupling of the C, N, and P cycles through key processes (net primary productivity, decomposition, nutrient cycling) and quantify the links to pathogen transfer and viability using a combination of targeted field-based monitoring and field- and laboratory-based experimentation in the Conwy catchment supplemented by measurements in intensively farmed areas of the Ribble.
The following outcomes are expected:
1. Quantification and improved process-understanding of coupled C, N and P processes, transformations and fluxes across soil functional types and within processing hotspots.
2. Quantification of the effects of instream ecosystem function and co-limitation of N/P on eutrophication development in freshwaters.
3. Testing of hypotheses that terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity can be explained at the catchment- and national-scales as function of macronutrient flux and primary productivity.
4. Source to sea flux quantification and process-understanding of the fate of pathogens and the controls exerted by macronutrients within very fine sediments (flocs).
5. An integrated, parsimonious coupled macronutrient (C, N, P) air-land-water modelling platform, configured for a 1 km grid across the Conwy (i.e. an enhanced JULES model).
6. Sensitivity analysis of carbon sequestration, water quality and biodiversity to past and future climate, nutrient and land (forest) cover change to determine the key controls on past and future changes in carbon sequestration, water quality and biodiversity.
7. Quantification of trade offs in delivery of carbon sequestration, water quality and biodiversity at the catchment scale and the relationship to land cover type and climate regime.

Planned Impact

The Pathways to Impact is based on engagement with Partners representing key stakeholders, and the national and international science community including the Macronutrients working groups. It aims to ensure that the excellence in science produced by the project has real impact on the next generation of coupled biogeochemcial models both at the catchment and Earth System scale and the implementation of policy linked to the management of Ecosystem Services. Impact will be ensured in the following ways.

The project Steering Group is at the heart of the impact plan and will consist of: Environment Agency, and we hope Defra (who have verbally expressed interest in the project), other project partners identified in the Pathways to Impact, selected academic experts, invited members of the Macronutrient Science Management Team and/or cross-theme Working Groups, and the project Investigators. The role of the Steering Group will be to: A) keep the project closely aligned with stakeholder activity and strategy while maintaining the core scientific aims; B) to keep the project informed of other relevant research to ensure knowledge exchange and complementarity; C) to disseminate the research within stakeholder groups, within and beyond the macronutrient programme; and D) to coordinate transfer of models and data in both directions.

National and international scientific collaboration is another central aspect of the Pathways to Impact plan. The project will seek to collaborate with Macronutrient and other relevant projects, both through the cross-theme Working Groups and independently. Key collaborations will be with NERC's BESS programme, the NERC/DFID ESPA programme, NERC Sensor Web programme, NERC EVOp project and FP7 projects (e.g. EXPEER, SOILTREC, REFRESH, WISER and BIOFRESH), Defra/EA DTCs, an Defra large air quality projects (CLDMII and TU). The project is inherently linked with Reading's Walker Institute - for which an aim of these research centres is to disseminate climate change research and ensure national and international impacts.

Publications

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De Sosa LL (2018) Quantifying the contribution of riparian soils to the provision of ecosystem services. in The Science of the total environment

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Doody D (2016) Optimizing land use for the delivery of catchment ecosystem services in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

 
Description The Turf2Surf project addresses how carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles are coupled in soils, the riparian zone, instream and in the river-estuary transition zone and the relationship with key ecosystem services (water quality, carbon sequestration, food production) and biodiversity. This £3.6 million pound project started in February 2013 and will complete in September 2017. The consortium comprises the University of Reading (NE/J011967/1), the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (NE/J011991/1), Bangor University (NE/J011908/1), The James Hutton Institute and The Freshwater Habitats Trust. Key stakeholders involved represented the water industry, policy makers, regulators, nature conservation, land owners and land managers. Field work for the project was done in the Conwy Source to Sea observatory supplemented with work in the Ribble catchment (http://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/monitoring-site/conwy-source-sea-catchment-research-platform), and to build a wider understanding of coupled nutrient cycling in different rivers systems then historic have also been analysed from catchments around Great Britain. At this stage, the key findings are preliminary but in summary the key outputs are: Extensive new datasets that, for the first time, provide co-located measurement of key ecosystem services and biodiversity at the catchment-scale in a continuum of processing 'hot-spots' from catchment soils, through an intensively instrumented hillslope, into the river network and the river estuary transition zone. These measurements comprise physical, chemical and biological data from field measurements that describe, for example, key soil and plant properties including soil physical, chemical and biological data including soil carbon, foliar nutrient content, plant species type and structural measurements, microclimate, freshwater and estuarine water quality. These field based measurements were supplemented by laboratory and field-based experiments to deepen understanding of how nutrients were coupled in the hot-spots and together these data provide a key resource for the integrated assessment of ecosystem services and biodiversity. Many of these data have been lodged with the Environmental Information Data Centre (http://eidc.ceh.ac.uk/), or are in the process of being added over the next few months. Enhancement of existing models and the development of new ones that together provide an integrated, dynamic method for the assessment of the spatial and temporal variations in key ecosystem services and biodiversity in response to environmental change. N limitation within the JULES has been added and comparison with the observations of above ground net primary productivity (aNPP) shows marked improvement. The Multimove Plant Species Richness models are now a function of aNPP and thereby can be linked with JULES. A new dynamic catchment water quality model (CASCADE) has been developed with improved representation of nutrient source areas and transport pathways and linked to a hydrodynamic model (TELEMAC) of the Conwy estuary to explore the relative importance of riverine and marine inputs on estuarine water quality. The hydrodynamic estuarine model has also been run to explore how future climate change will impact the estuarine flow dynamics through altered river inputs and sea level rise. Finally, a new instream model is being tested that will allow the relative importance of coupled nutrient processing instream to be assessed relative to the source inputs. Headline results at this stage are: Soil-vegetation-atmosphere • Annual net primary productivity (ANPP) is predictable from simple soil metrics (NO3, pH and Total-P) on one unified gradient irrespective of soil, habitat or climate. • Foliar nutrient ratios are not good indicators of nutrient limitation as plants are well adapted to their environments. • Photosynthesis rates are not good indicators of overall ANPP due to other traits and ecological processes which down-regulate i.e. production is sink not source controlled. • A new soil-P method is better able to identify plant-available-P than total-P. • Carbon turnover in upland soil is C limited as soil available C:N:P was found to be always below the microbial C:N:P of 70:7:1. • In arable systems available C:N ratios < 5 leads to phosphorus limitation of C turnover. • C turnover in deep soils is highly responsive to change in C, N and P availability. • Wetlands are completely consistent with other soils in their behaviour across the C:N:P gradient. Anoxia does not change the relationship. Riparian and river network • Clear differences in C/N/P ratios between landscapes were found, largely along an established ecological gradient and reflect land cover and geology • Complex picture of nutrient losses spatially and temporally through events: dilution, mobilisation, seasonal and flow influences can all be detected • Definition of riparian zone depends on issue to be considered Instream processes Uplands: • Aquatic DOM production, related to N and P • Aquatic DOM decomposition/respiration, related to C lability • DOM concentration same down system, but transformation occurs • CNP additions stimulate algal growth. Lowlands: • N and P - sources and hydrological processes dominate dynamics • Fine scale dynamics important for abiotic-biotic interactions (e.g. Si and P limits during algal bloom development) • For flux estimation to sea, reach-scale losses important, but not subtle abiotic-biotic coupling may not be needed in model-based representations. River Estuarine Transition Zone • Estuarine turbidity maximum (ETM) created by landward advection of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) resuspended from intertidal flats. • In upper estuary, flood tide velocities > ebb tide velocities (common in meso/macrotidal estuaries) but due to density stratification on the flood tide, flood turbulence < ebb turbulence (new). Suppression of turbulence limits resuspension of SPM by the flood tide - decreases landward transport of SPM especially of larger flocs (new). • Aggregation and sedimentation of flocs in ETM at HW in the tidally influenced river. • Large flocs resuspended on ebb tide, ETM re-created and advected seawards. • Results in floc size fractionation - large flocs move seawards into main estuary, small flocs move landwards into tidally influenced river (new). • Particulate nutrient and pathogen concentration peaks map on to SPM concentration peaks (new). • RETZ and estuarine solutes driven by river, whilst RETZ and estuarine particulates driven by sea. Integrated assessment and modelling • aNPP is key explanatory variable of plant biodiversity • River flow is very important in terms of nutrient distribution in estuaries; • Wetter winters will flush nutrients to the sea, drier summers will increase nutrient trapping in the estuary; • Sources dominate instream N and P dynamics, ratios and concentrations except in clean, upland systems (where N, P prime DOM production); • Lowlands - instream processing is a secondary effect on N and P dynamics, though reach scale losses important for accurate flux determination, and N and P prime DOM production
Exploitation Route This will emerge as the project finishes
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

URL http://www.turf2surf.org/
 
Description As the project is yet to complete, it is early to assess the impact of the work and it is anticipated that this section will become more detailed in subsequent reporting periods. Nonetheless, the outputs from the project are being used to advise end-users in their planning, for example, Natural Resources Wales are using the findings in their River Basin Management Plans, and following presentation of the project at the Macronutrients Programme final meeting at the Royal Society in June 2016, there are on-going discussions with Natural England and the Environment Agency around what the future UK landscape might look like to maximise ecosystem service benefits and protect or improve biodiversity.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Title Automatic sampler stage data from six Conwy catchment stream sites 2013 to 2016 
Description Fifteen minute river stage height for 6 river monitoring stations within the Conwy catchment, North Wales are presented for the period 2013 to 2016. At one site (Cwm Llanerch) site the water temperature was also sampled. At all sites, the mean water height in millimetres (mm) is measured using a pressure transducer installed at an arbitrary level and recorded onto data loggers every 15 minutes. The data were collected to estimate flow in the 6 rivers. The data was collected by CEH staff members for the NERC project "The Multi-Scale Response of Water quality, Biodiversity and C Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea" (NE/J011991/1). Note: there are gaps in this data set due to equipment/battery or system failures. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Online resource available from EIDC. 
URL https://doi.org/10.5285/79de7b6e-93c2-45d3-b11d-de156dc4fefc
 
Title Conwy stream and estuary water quality data (2013 - 2016) [Turf2Surf] 
Description The data comprise water quality measurements taken from streams and rivers in the Conwy catchment and its estuary from March 2013 to October 2016. Depending on water type and sampling location the data consist of concentrations of major cations and anions, pH, conductivity, alkalinity, suspended material and coliforms. Samples were collected manually or by automatic sampler. Analysis was carried out at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) Bangor, CEH Lancaster and Bangor University laboratories. The data were collected provide information on the relationship between stream water quality, primarily macronutrient concentrations, and catchment and hydrological characteristics. The data are used to drive a catchment scale water quality model, and to investigate nutrient ratios and limitation with respect to land cover and management. All sampling and analysis was carried out by trained members of staff from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Bangor University. This data was assembled under the NERC project 'The Multi-Scale Response of Water quality, Biodiversity and Carbon Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea (NE/J011991/1). The project is also referred to as Turf2Surf. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Online resource available from EIDC. 
URL https://doi.org/10.5285/32392c33-8cbe-434a-a582-ab8425a5062c
 
Title Plant aboveground and belowground standing biomass measurements in the Conwy catchment in North Wales (2013 and 2014) 
Description The data consists of, standing aboveground biomass, and belowground biomass measurements, from sites in the Conwy catchment. Standing aboveground biomass was measured at 7 sites and belowground biomass measurements were made at 8 sites. Data were collected in 2013 and 2014. The sites were chosen to represent habitat types and the terrestrial productivity gradient in Britain from intensive agriculturally managed lowland grasslands through to montane heath. Standing aboveground biomass (grams of dry mass per metre square) in habitats dominated by herbaceous biomass was measured on 1x1 metre quadrats in four plots per site. Standing aboveground biomass in woodlands was measured in two 200 square metre areas by means of stem cores and litter collections. Belowground total root biomass (grams of dry mass per square metre) was assessed for the topsoil 0-15 centimetres in three plots per site. Measurements were undertaken by trained members of staff from Bangor University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. This data was collected for the NERC project 'The Multi-Scale Response of Water quality, Biodiversity and Carbon Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea' (NE/J011991/1). The project is also referred to as Turf2Surf. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Online resource available through EIDC. 
URL https://doi.org/10.5285/46bb0117-ed5d-4167-a375-d84d1237cf21
 
Title Plant structural measurements in North Wales and Northwest England 2013 and 2014 
Description The data consists of plant structural plant community measurements from 15 sites located in the Conwy catchment (North Wales) and from 2 sites in North West England. Annual aboveground net primary productivity (NPP), canopy height (cht), bryophyte cover (Bcov), leaf dry matter content (LDMC), leaf mass area (LMA) and specific leaf area (SLA) were measured on the dominant plant species. Data were collected in 2013 and 2014. The sites were chosen to represent habitat types and the terrestrial productivity gradient in Britain from intensive agriculturally managed lowland grasslands through to montane heath. Plots within the sites were located using a stratified random sampling design. Plant trait values were taken from existing published databases or were directly measured in each plot for the two species contributing the highest percentage cover. NPP (grams of dry mass per square metre per year) was measured using a variety of methods according to the plant functional types present. SLA and LDMC was measured on site focussing on the dominant vascular plant species in each plot defined as the two species contributing maximum standing biomass in the year of sampling. Leaf area was calculated based on scanned photographs analysed using Image J software v1.46r. Plant parameters were tested across a land use intensification gradient to detect parameters that can predict aboveground biomass production across different land management types. Data were used to enhance the predictions of biomass production in the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator model (JULES). Measurements informed the improvement of the nitrogen cycle component in the model. Measurements were undertaken by trained members of staff from Bangor University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Exeter University. This data was collected for the NERC project 'The Multi-Scale Response of Water quality, Biodiversity and Carbon Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea (NE/J011991/1). The project is also referred to as Turf2Surf. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact On-line resource available through EIDC. 
URL https://doi.org/10.5285/8899768c-cc5a-4885-a88b-c08374ee568e
 
Title Soil carbon data in the Conwy catchment in North Wales 2014 
Description The data consist of soil carbon in kilogrammes (kg) of carbon per metre squared. Soil cores were taken to a depth of 1 metre and divided into 15 cm depth increments. Soil carbon (kg carbon per metre squared) was determined for all soil depth increments. The soil samples were taken in the Conwy catchment in North West Wales. Samples were collected in the spring of 2014 across a land use intensification gradient ranging from semi-natural peatlands, acid grasslands to improved grasslands and arable fields. Soil parameters were tested across a land use intensification gradient to detect parameters that can predict aboveground biomass production across different land management types. Data were used to enhance the predictions of biomass production in the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator model (JULES). Measurements informed the improvement of the nitrogen cycle component in the model. This dataset is part of a data series where plant and soil measurements were collected together to increase our understanding of coupled aboveground and belowground processes. Measurements were undertaken by trained members of staff from Bangor University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Exeter University. This data was collected for the NERC project 'The Multi-Scale Response of Water quality, Biodiversity and Carbon Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea' (NE/J011991/1). The project is also referred to as Turf2Surf. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Online resource available through EIDC 
URL https://doi.org/10.5285/dd6835bf-9c7e-4ad6-95f2-d15f24162fb3
 
Title Soil physical, chemical and biological measurements in the Conwy Catchment (North Wales) 2013 and 2014 
Description The data consist of general physical, biological and chemical parameters for soil samples taken in the Conwy catchment in North West Wales. Samples were collected between 2013 and 2014 across a land use intensification gradient ranging from semi-natural peatlands, acid grasslands to improved grasslands and arable fields. Soil cores were taken to a depth of 1 metre and divided into 15 centimetre (cm) depth increments. General soil physical and chemical parameters were measured at each depth increment for most of the sites. Biological (root and fine root biomass) parameters were assessed in the topsoil 0-15 cm in 5 cm intervals. Soil parameters were tested across a land use intensification gradient to detect parameters that can predict aboveground biomass production across different land management types. Data were used to enhance the predictions of biomass production in the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator model (JULES). Measurements informed the improvement of the nitrogen cycle component in the model. Measurements were undertaken by trained members of staff from Bangor University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Exeter University. This data was collected for the NERC project 'The Multi-Scale Response of Water quality, Biodiversity and Carbon Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea' (NE/J011991/1). The project is also referred to as Turf2Surf. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Online resource available through EIDC. 
URL https://doi.org/10.5285/6566a706-9c55-4f7f-b33d-27bc29c73274
 
Title Soil respiration responses to carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous additions to topsoil and subsoil cores from the Conwy catchment in North Wales 
Description The data consists of raw data on measured carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide concentration (N2O) concentrations from intact soil topsoil (0-15 cm) and subsoil cores (85-100 cm) to added carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. Four land uses (Bog, acid grassland, improved grassland and arable field) in North Wales were selected for this study with three replicates each. Intact soil cores were taken in January and February in 2014. The data consists of three datasets. The first dataset contains the measured CO2 concentration that was measured from intact topsoil cores (0-15 cm) as a result of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus additions form a pilot study. For the pilot study intact topsoil cores were taken in November and December in 2013 from three sites. a Podzol, a coniferous forest soil and a grassland soil. These sites were not in the Conwy Catchment. The pilot study results were used to inform the experimental setup for the main experiment. The data from the main experiment, measured carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide concentration (N2O), are reported in the second dataset for intact topsoil and subsoil cores. The third dataset contains nitrogen mineralization data from the intact soil cores that were used as control cores and did not receive any carbon or nutrient additions. The dataset contains measurements on soil nitrate, ammonium and total nitrogen mineralization rates in milligrammes of nitrogen per gramme of dry weight or per gramme of organic matter content. This data was collected for the NERC project 'The Multi-Scale Response of Water quality, Biodiversity and Carbon Sequestration to Coupled Macronutrient Cycling from Source to Sea' (NE/J011991/1). The project is also referred to as Turf2Surf. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Online resource available from EIDC 
URL https://doi.org/10.5285/0c17a041-8852-4800-9c04-2ab2dd858837