Headwater Streams in a Warming World

Carbon dynamics in warming streams

Amy Rosemond, a professor in the Odum School of Ecology, is working with colleagues including RBC Director of Science Seth Wenger, John Benstead (University of Alabama), Vlad Gulis (Coastal Carolina), Ashley Helton (University of Connecticut), and Erin Hotchkiss (Virginia Tech) on a project that focuses on “headwater streams in a warming world”.  The goal of this project is to understand and predict the consequences of climate warming on the processing of terrestrial organic carbon (OC) in headwater stream networks. Amy and colleagues are working to determine the responses of the heterotrophic community to warming and assess how higher temperatures will affect the routing and fates of carbon in stream ecosystems.  The project will combine the results from field and laboratory experiments with existing data set provided by the Coweta Hydrologic Laboratory to create a novel network-scale model that will predict the effects of warming on carbon fates in the Coweeta stream network under diverse climate-change scenarios.

The importance of this project relates to forest inland water networks and their role in storing and processing terrestrial organic carbon in the face of inevitable climate change.  The proposed research addresses a critical need to understand and predict how heterotrophs and organic carbon processing will respond to the warming of river networks.   Shifts in carbon use efficiency, acclimation, and community re-assembly complicate the ability to make predictions.  Invertebrate detritivores are key processors of the organic carbon that dominates inputs to headwater networks and will likely grow more complex due to population-level shifts induced by warming.  This project’s multi-scale approach will produce results that will influence current efforts to quantify and forecast the role of inland waters in the global carbon cycle.   Resulting data concerning the responses of heterotrophic stream communities and carbon flow to temperature changes will benefit society through a better understanding of how warming influences freshwater ecosystems and the services that they provide.  By involving nongovernmental organizations, volunteers, PhD, MS, and undergrad students, the project aims to integrate research and education to create outreach materials showing effects of warming on ecosystem services ranging from carbon processing to trout habitat.