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Title: Lakes protect downstream riverine habitats from chloride toxicity
Freshwater salinization from anthropogenic activities threatens water quality and habitat suitability for many lakes and rivers in North America. Recognizing that salinization is a stress on freshwater environments globally, research on watershed salt transport is necessary for informed management strategies. Prior to this research, there were few studies that examined salt export regimes along a river–lake continuum to investigate the drivers, temporal dynamics, and modulators of freshwater salinization. Here, we use high-frequency in situ monitoring to assess specific conductance–discharge (cQ) relationships, chloride concentrations and fluxes, and the role of lakes in downstream salt transport. The Upper Yahara River Watershed in southern Wisconsin, USA, is a mixed urban and agricultural watershed where the lakes' chloride concentrations have risen from < 5 mg L−1 in the 1940s to > 50–80 mg L−1 in 2021. Our results suggest cQ behavior depends on land use, with urban areas exhibiting more frequent mobilization events during stormflow and agricultural areas exhibiting predominantly dilution dynamics. In addition, chloride loading is driven by hydrology and watershed size whereas concentrations and yields are a function of anthropogenic drivers like urbanization. We demonstrate how an in-network lake attenuates downstream salinity, dampening the hydrologic, anthropogenic, and seasonal patterns observed in rivers upstream of the lake. Importantly, biogeochemical processes in lakes overlay a seasonal signal on salinity that must be considered when investigating temporal dynamics of anthropogenic salinization. This research contributes to understanding of temporal dynamics of salt export through watersheds and can be used to inform management strategies for habitat protection.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2144750 2025982
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Limnology and Oceanography
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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