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Title: Land Use and Land Cover Shape River Water Quality at a Continental Caribbean Land-Ocean Interface
Land use and land cover (LULC) can significantly alter river water, which can in turn have important impacts on downstream coastal ecosystems by delivering nutrients that promote marine eutrophication and hypoxia. Well-documented in temperate systems, less is known about the way land cover relates to water quality in low-lying coastal zones in the tropics. Here we evaluate the catchment LULC and the physical and chemical characteristics of six rivers that contribute flow into a seasonally hypoxic tropical bay in Bocas del Toro, Panama. From July 2019 to March 2020, we routinely surveyed eight physical and chemical characteristics (temperature, specific conductivity, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), nitrate and nitrite, ammonium, and phosphate). Our goals were to determine how these physical and chemical characteristics of the rivers reflect the LULC, to compare the water quality of the focal rivers to rivers across Panama, and to discuss the potential impacts of river discharge in the Bay. Overall, we found that the six focal rivers have significantly different river water characteristics that can be linked to catchment LULC and that water quality of rivers 10 s of kilometers apart could differ drastically. Two focal catchments dominated by pristine peat swamp vegetation in San San Pond Sak, showed characteristics typical of blackwater rivers, with low pH, dissolved oxygen, and nutrients. The remaining four catchments were largely mountainous with >50% forest cover. In these rivers, variation in nutrient concentrations were associated with percent urbanization. Comparisons across Panamanian rivers covered in a national survey to our focal rivers shows that saltwater intrusions and low DO of coastal swamp rivers may result in their classification by a standardized water quality index as having slightly contaminated water quality, despite this being their natural state. Examination of deforestation over the last 20 years, show that changes were <10% in the focal catchments, were larger in the small mountainous catchments and suggest that in the past 20 years the physical and chemical characteristics of river water that contributes to Almirante Bay may have shifted slightly in response to these moderate land use changes. (See supplementary information for Spanish-language abstract).  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1924220 1924551
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Water
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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