Our primary objective is to understand the linkage between surface-subsurface water interactions and ecosystem processes in neotropical lowland streams over an extended time frame (>25 yrs). Proposed research will occur at La Selva Biological Reserve in Costa Rica, which is owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies
In tectonically active regions of Central America, it is common for solute-rich groundwater to emerge at gradient breaks within the complex volcanic topography of mountains and foothills which intergrade with the coastal plain. These groundwaters can significantly influence solute chemistry and related ecological and ecosystem-level processes in receiving surface waters. Many solute-rich groundwaters are associated with underlying volcanic activity which has altered the chemistry of receiving streams throughout Central America. Geothermally-modified groundwaters, surfacing at the gradient break between the Central Mountain range and the coastal plain at La Selva Biological Station, have high levels of P (up to 400 mg SRP L-1) and other solutes (Ca, Cl, Mg, SO4) but are not elevated in temperature. Spatial patterns in stream solute chemistry are determined by geomorphic features of the volcanic landscape that include: upland lavas drained by P-poor streams; a gradient break (~50 m.a.s.l.), at or near where P-rich springs emerge; and lowland alluvial areas drained by streams that are both P-rich and P-poor depending on whether they receive the input of solute-rich springs.
Our project is the first to determine long-term effects of nutrient enrichment in a detrital-based stream within the wet tropics. We will continue to build upon our â€˜long-term' (1988-present) data set on stream solute chemistry, which is the only one that we are aware of for lowland primary rainforest of Central America. The proposed project will build on 18 years of past research which has shown that landscape patterns in stream solute chemistry (resulting from variation in solute-rich groundwater inputs) reflect ecosystem processes such as rates of primary production and decomposition of organic material. Specifically, we are: (1) continuing our evaluation of long-term trends in the solute chemistry of these lowland tropical streams as related to large scale climatic phenomena (e.g., El Nino Southern Oscillation Events); (2) examining how stream segments draining three major geomorphic subfeatures of the lowland tropical landscape respond to temporal (wet versus dry season) changes in precipitation; (3) examining stoichiometric mechanisms behind elevated levels of insect growth and biomass turnover rates in phosphorus-rich streams; and finally (4) concluding (and build upon) an ongoing long-term whole-stream phosphorus enrichment by determining the storage, fate and transport of the artificially-introduced phosphorus (that has been injected over an 8 year period) and examining related effects on detrital foodwebs.
Stream solute chemistry and ecosystem process-oriented data are of fundamental importance to our understanding and management of tropical forests and in predicting effects of regional (and potentially global) environmental change on these threatened ecosystems. Our long-term program will provide new insights into how large scale climatic phenomena interact with subsurface hydrologic factors and geothermal activity to influence stream solute chemistry and related ecosystem processes. We will continue to link the data sets generated from our LTREB Project to those from other long term sites for both tropical (e.g., Luquillo LTER site in Puerto Rico) and temperate research (Coweeta LTER site in North Carolina USA). Finally, the project will contribute to our ongoing environmental outreach program Water for Life, which includes local outreach in communities near La Selva Biological Station and an internationally accessible web page equipped with teaching tools on river conservation and water quality and quantity issues at the high school- level in both Spanish and English.