The Fate of Carbon in Warmer Waters

Researchers examine how climate change impacts carbon in streams

As global temperatures rise and stream waters warm, the ecological processes within them begin to change. This research examines the consequences of climate warming on how the carbon contained in leaves, fallen trees, and other natural materials is processed within streams. 

The goal of this project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and a collaboration between the University of Alabama, Coastal Carolina University, University of Connecticut, and Virginia Tech, as well as the University of Georgia, is to understand how climate change impacts the rates of organic matter processing, and the fate of the carbon within the streams—whether it is released as carbon dioxide, sent downstream, or consumed by stream organisms. The fate of carbon may have implications for the health of the ecosystem (if warmer temperatures lead to debris being processed more quickly, organisms may run out of food), and as a compounding effect for climate change (if increased amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere when streams are warmed, warmer streams may contribute more to climate change).

To understand these processes, researchers are using a gradient of temperatures in stream-side channels to measure the temperature sensitivity of shredder growth and consumption. Other sets of experiments, sampling, and temperature modeling is being conducted at different scales—including whole-stream manipulations and landscape scale sampling. 

In addition to manipulations of temperatures, researchers are measuring whole-stream carbon budgets, litter decomposition and the response of shredder physiology to temperature. 

Collaborators include Jon Benstead (lead PI), Amy Rosemond, (co-PI) Vlad Gulis, Ashley Helton, Erin Hotckiss, Seth Wenger (Senior Personnel). Project managers, techs, and graduate students: Kaity Ackerman (CCU), Phillip Bumpers (UGA), Carolyn Cummins (UGA), Danielle Hare (UCONN), Kyle Madoni (UA), Laura Naslund (UGA), Hunter Pates (CCU), Phoenix Rogers (UA), Nate Tomczyk (UGA). Undergraduates: Charlie Bond (UGA CURO), Garrett Frandson (REU), Maggie England-Johns (REU), Anna Kaz (REU), Quentin Rice (REU)

This research is also in partnership with Trout Unlimited, Mainspring Conservation Trust, and the USDA Forest Service.