Decreased buffering capacity and increased recovery time for legacy phosphorus in a typical watershed in eastern China between 1960 and 2010
Legacy phosphorus (P) accumulated in watersheds from excessive historical P inputs is recognized as an important component of water pollution control and sustainable P management in watersheds worldwide. However, little is known about how watershed P buffering capacity responds to legacy P pressures over time and how long it takes for riverine P concentrations to recover to a target level, especially in developing countries. This study examined long-term (1960–2010) accumulated legacy P stock, P buffering capacity and riverine TP flux dynamics to predict riverine P-reduction recovery times in the Yongan watershed of eastern China. Due to a growing legacy P stock coupled with changes in land use and climate, estimated short- and long-term buffering metrics (i.e., watershed ability to retain current year and historically accumulated surplus P, respectively) decreased by 65% and 36%, respectively, resulting in a 15-fold increase of riverine P flux between 1980 and 2010. An empirical model incorporating accumulated legacy P stock and annual precipitation was developed (R2 = 0.99) and used to estimate a critical legacy P stock of 22.2 ton P km−2 (95% CI 19.4–25.3 ton P km−2) that would prevent exceedance of a target riverine TP concentration of 0.05 mg P L−1. Using an exponential decay model, the recovery time for depleting the estimated legacy P stock in 2010 (29.3 ton P km−2) to the critical level (22.2 ton P km−2) via riverine flux was 456 years (95% CI 353–560 years), 159 years (95% CI 57–262 years) and 318 years (95% CI 238–400 years) under scenarios of a 4% reduction in annual P inputs, total cessation of P inputs, and 4% reduction of annual P inputs with a 10% increase in average annual precipitation, respectively. Given the lower P buffering capacity and lengthening recovery time, strategies to reduce P inputs and utilize soil legacy P for crop production are necessary to effectively control riverine P pollution and conserve global rock P resources. A long-term perspective that incorporates both contemporary and historical information is required for developing sustainable P management strategies to optimize both agronomic and environmental benefits at the watershed scale.
KeywordsPhosphorus Legacy nutrients Watershed Phosphorus buffering capacity Eutrophication Lag time
We thank local government departments for providing data critical for this investigation. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51679210 and 41877465), National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFD0800101) and Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China (LR19D010002).
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
This study has no conflict of interest with any persons or affiliations.
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