Indexed on: 19 Mar '13Published on: 19 Mar '13Published in: Biogeochemistry
A series of eight watersheds on the Pacific coast of Panama where conversion of mature lowland wet forest to pastures by artisanal burning provided watershed-scale experimental units with a wide range of forest cover (23, 29, 47, 56, 66, 73, 73, 91, and 92 %). We used these watersheds as a landscape-scale experiment to assess effects of degree of deforestation on within-watershed retention and hydrological export of atmospheric inputs of nutrients. Retention was estimated by comparing rainfall nutrient concentrations (volume-weighted to allow for evapotranspiration) to concentrations in freshwater reaches of receiving streams. Retention of rain-derived nutrients in these Panama watersheds averaged 77, 85, 80, and 62 % for nitrate, ammonium, dissolved organic N, and phosphate, respectively. Retention of rain-derived inorganic nitrogen, however, depended on watershed cover: retention of nitrate and ammonium in pasture-dominated watersheds was 95 and 98 %, while fully forested watersheds retained 65 and 80 % of atmospheric nitrate and ammonium inputs. Watershed forest cover did not affect retention of dissolved organic nitrogen and phosphate. Exports from more forested watersheds yielded DIN/P near 16, while pasture-dominated watersheds exported N/P near 2. The differences in magnitude of exports and ratios suggest that deforestation in these Panamanian forests results in exports that affect growth of plants and algae in the receiving stream and estuarine ecosystems. Watershed retention of dissolved inorganic nitrogen calculated from wet plus dry atmospheric deposition varied from 90 % in pasture- to 65 % in forest-dominated watersheds, respectively. Discharges of DIN to receiving waters from the watersheds therefore rose from 10 % of atmospheric inputs for pasture-dominated watersheds, to about 35 % of atmospheric inputs for fully forested watersheds. These results from watersheds with no agriculture or urbanization, but different conversion of forest to pasture by burning, show significant, deforestation-dependent retention within tropical watersheds, but also ecologically significant, and deforestation-dependent, exports that are biologically significant because of the paucity of nutrients in receiving tropical stream and coastal waters.