Distinctive connectivities of near-stream and watershed-wide land uses differentially degrade rural aquatic ecosystems

Courtesy of UGA’s Department of Geography

RBC affiliate and UGA Geography professor David Leigh and a team of researchers review and synthesize spatially extensive studies of oligotrophic mountain streams in the rural Southern Appalachian Mountains, concluding that rural land-use activities significantly degrade water quality through altered and mostly enhanced landscape–stream connections, despite high forest retention. Some connections are controlled by near-stream land-use activities, whereas others are controlled by basin-wide land use. The researchers found that these connections merge to alter basal resources and shift fish, salamander, and invertebrate assemblages toward species tolerant of higher turbidity and summer temperatures and those more competitive in mesotrophic systems. They suggest that rural water quality problems could be mitigated substantially with well-known best management practices, which raises socioecological governance questions about best management practice adoption.