Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in streams is a critical component of the global carbon cycle, but little is known about long-term patterns in DOC concentration and export in grassland streams. Here we present the results of a 15-year dataset collected from multiple sites in the Kings Creek watershed on Konza Prairie, KS, USA. DOC concentrations ranged from 0.15 to 15.97 mg L−1, with a mean of 1.19 mg L−1 (standard deviation 1.01 mg L−1). Sites differed in their DOC concentrations as a function of the year of study and the season. Generally, headwaters had greater DOC concentrations, and DOC decreased downstream. The lowest concentrations were found in a groundwater spring in the watershed. Concentrations showed no trend over the study and were not correlated with discharge. However, annual export (mean: 0.29 kg ha−1 year−1; range: 0.00–9.09 kg ha−1 year−1) was highly correlated with annual runoff, and annual runoff explained over 80 % of the variation in export. Export from Kings Creek was 30 times lower than the literature-reported mean for grasslands and 137 times less than export averaged across all biomes. Neither fire nor bison, two forces that maintain prairies, were statistically related to DOC concentrations. Main drivers of DOC concentrations are likely leaching from terrestrial organic material in soils and the accumulations in dry streambeds during drought periods as well as instream autotrophic production. Downstream declines in DOC concentrations suggest instream processing. Grassland streams probably have modest effects on the global carbon budget due to instream processing and low precipitation. Changes in precipitation may have large effects on carbon export from grassland streams.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Rosemary Ramundo for analysis of DOC samples and all the workers who collected the samples over the years. The research was funded by the US National Science Foundation Konza Long Term Ecological Research grant, and support for JR came from NSF Macrosystems. This is publication 16-104-J from the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station.
© 2015, Springer International Publishing Switzerland.
- Carbon cycle
- Carbon export
- Long-term study
- Prairie streams