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ENVIRONMENT

'Implications ... profound': Humans shape global patterns of decomposition rates in rivers

Erica Van Buren
Augusta Chronicle
(L-R) Dr. Krista Capps, graduate student Viviana Bravo PhD student Anuja Mital, visiting scholar Shou Chen, and PhD student Denzell Cross collect samples in a stream on campus as part of a larger effort to study the impact of urbanization in streams in the state of Georgia.

Human activity is causing an increase in the rate in which organic matter decomposes in rivers and streams globally, experts say.老司机直播

Rivers and streams contribute to global carbon cycling by decomposing large quantities of terrestrial plant matter, according to conducted by the University of Georgia, Kent State University and Oakland University.老司机直播

However, decomposition rates are highly variable and large-scale patterns and drivers of this process remain poorly understood.

Krista Capps, associate professor, jointly appointed by the Odum School of Ecology and Savannah River Ecology Lab at the University of Georgia, said we all depend on rivers and streams.

Dr. Krista Capps works with graduate students to collect samples in a stream on campus as part of a larger effort to study the impact of urbanization in streams in the state.

老司机直播淚n the U.S., particularly in the Southeast a lot of communities use rivers and streams as the primary source of drinking water. And as a place where we discharge our wastewater,老司机直播 said Capps. 老司机直播淭hat means we need rivers and streams to continue to function in predictable ways. How carbon is moving through rivers and streams is fundamentally important.老司机直播

Capps said rivers and streams link forests and the land environment with the ocean which is how carbon is getting into the ocean, which is supporting coastal fisheries.

老司机直播淥ur research suggests that even in the least impacted rivers and streams on Earth, you can see the changes that human activities are having on how quickly carbon is moving through rivers and streams,老司机直播 said Capps. 老司机直播淲hen you add nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer or wastewater, increase in temperature, which we're seeing with climate change, that means that carbon is not staying in the river.

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老司机直播淚nstead of being stored in rivers and streams by, for example, fish that eat insects that ate the bacteria and fungi and held on to that carbon before it was released.老司机直播

Capps said Carbon is a huge energy source for a lot of coastal systems.老司机直播

老司机直播淭he implications of this are pretty profound,老司机直播 she said. 老司机直播淚n other words, when you think about greenhouse gasses a lot of people are thinking about pipes and industrial emissions. Our work is saying that we need to be thinking about this in rivers and streams because of this really essential connection they have for ecosystems all over the world.老司机直播

Scott Tiegs, PhD, professor of Biological Sciences at Oakland University, located in Rochester, Michigan.

Scott Tiegs, co-author of the study and a professor of biological sciences at Oakland University in Michigan, said field data was collected from 550 rivers across the globe.老司机直播The field data collection was funded through a $50,000老司机直播grant from the Ecuadorian National Science Foundation.

老司机直播淲e had streams tested in Antarctica, the Arctic and everywhere in between,老司机直播 said Tiegs. 老司机直播淥ne of the knowledge gaps that we really filled in with this project was in tropical streams. Tropical streams, despite their global significance, are really understudied compared to streams and rivers in temperate zones like North America, Europe. We've really studied these streams pretty well.老司机直播

Cotton is key, said Tiegs.

老司机直播淐otton happens to be made of cellulose, which is the most abundant organic polymer on Earth,老司机直播 said Tiegs. 老司机直播淚t老司机直播檚 the main stuff that plants, trees and leaves are made out of. The main constituent of life on Earth is cellulose, and it just so happens that cotton fabric is made up of almost 99% cellulose.老司机直播

Tiegs said this was a collaborative effort.

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老司机直播淲e shipped these little pieces of pure cotton fabric to our partners,老司机直播 said Tiegs. 老司机直播淭hey incubated in their local streams and rivers, waited about a month, took them out quickly, gave them an ethanol bath to kill all the microbes on those strips, then they dried them in an oven. After that they sent them back to the lab. Then we measured the amount of force that it takes to pull those bits of cotton in half.老司机直播

老司机直播淎s the microbes degrade that cellulose, it becomes weaker and weaker. That老司机直播檚 how we can quantify that process.老司机直播

Tiegs said there老司机直播檚 a lot of work in the pipeline regarding next steps.

老司机直播淪ince 2015, when we did the preliminary work, advances in DNA technology with microbes like bacteria and fungi have really advanced, " he said. 老司机直播淣ow we can take a little snip from that cotton strip after it's been incubated in the stream, and we can determine the particular communities of microbes that are on that organic matter.老司机直播

老司机直播淲e can see how these communities are changing around the world in response to things like land use, agriculture, urbanization, and then also broader warming phenomenon and climate change phenomenon.老司机直播

This reporting content is supported by a partnership with several funders and Journalism Funding Funding Partners.

Erica Van Buren is the climate change reporter for The Augusta Chronicle, part of the USA TODAY Network. Connect with her at EVanBuren@gannett.com or on X: @EricaVanBuren32.