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Baseflow physical characteristics differ at multiple spatial scales in stream networks across diverse biomes

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Rüegg, J., W.K. Dodds, M.D. Daniels, et al. 2015. Landscape Ecology  31(1):119–136.

doi: 10.1007/s10980-015-0289-y

Abstract

Context

Spatial scaling of ecological processes is facilitated by quantifying underlying habitat attributes. Physical and ecological patterns are often measured at disparate spatial scales limiting our ability to quantify ecological processes at broader spatial scales using physical attributes.

Objective

We characterized variation of physical stream attributes during periods of high biological activity (i.e., baseflow) to match physical and ecological measurements and to identify the spatial scales exhibiting and predicting heterogeneity.

Methods

We measured canopy cover, wetted width, water depth, and sediment size along transects of 1st–5th order reaches in five stream networks located in biomes from tropical forest to arctic tundra. We used hierarchical analysis of variance with three nested scales (watersheds, stream orders, reaches) to identify scales exhibiting significant heterogeneity in attributes and regression analyses to characterize gradients within and across stream networks.

Results

Heterogeneity was evident at one or multiple spatial scales: canopy cover and water depth varied significantly at all three spatial scales while wetted width varied at two scales (stream order and reach) and sediment size remained largely unexplained. Similarly, prediction by drainage area depended on the attribute considered: depending on the watershed, increases in wetted width and water depth with drainage area were best fit with a linear, logarithmic, or power function. Variation in sediment size was independent of drainage area.

Conclusions

The scaling of ecologically relevant baseflow physical characteristics will require study beyond the traditional bankfull geomorphology since predictions of baseflow physical attributes by drainage area were not always best explained by geomorphic power laws.

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