Trends and seasonality of river nutrients in agricultural catchments: 18 years of weekly citizen science in France

Abstract : Agriculture and urbanization have disturbed three-quarters of global ice-free land surface, delivering huge amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus to freshwater ecosystems. These excess nutrients degrade habitat and threaten human food and water security at a global scale. Because most catchments are either currently subjected to, or recovering from anthropogenic nutrient loading, understanding the short- and long-term responses of river nutrients to changes in land use is essential for effective management. We analyzed a never-published, 18-year time series of anthropogenic (NO3 − and PO4 3 −) and naturally derived (dissolved silica) riverine nutrients in 13 catchments recovering from agricultural pollution in western France. In a citizen science initiative, high-school students sampled catchments weekly, which ranged from 26 to 1489 km2. Nutrient concentrations decreased substantially over the period of record (19 to 50% for NO3 − and 14 to 80% for PO4 3 −), attributable to regional, national, and international investment and regulation, which started immediately prior to monitoring. For the majority of catchments, water quality during the summer low-flow period improved faster than during winter high-flow conditions, and annual minimum concentrations improved relatively faster than annual maximum concentrations. These patterns suggest that water-quality improvements were primarily due to elimination of discrete nutrient sources with seasonally-constant discharge (e.g. human and livestock wastewater), agreeing with available land-use and municipal records. Surprisingly, long-term nutrient decreases were not accompanied by changes in nutrient seasonality in most catchments, attributable to persistent, diffuse nutrient stocks. Despite decreases, nutrient concentrations in almost all catchments remained well above eutrophication thresholds, and because additional improvements will depend on decreasing diffuse nutrient sources, future gains may be much slower than initial rate of recovery. These findings demonstrate the value of citizen science initiatives in quantifying long-term and seasonal consequences of changes in land management, which are necessary to identify sustainable limits and predict recovery timeframes.
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B.W. Abbott, F. Moatar, O. Gauthier, O. Fovet, V. Antoine, et al.. Trends and seasonality of river nutrients in agricultural catchments: 18 years of weekly citizen science in France. Science of the Total Environment, Elsevier, 2018, 624, pp.845-858. ⟨10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.12.176⟩. ⟨hal-01686773⟩

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