, Volume 112, Issue 1–3, pp 261–274 | Cite as

Seasonality and landscape factors drive dissolved organic matter properties in Mediterranean ephemeral washes

  • Núria Catalán
  • Biel Obrador
  • Carmen Alomar
  • Joan Ll. Pretus


Dissolved Organic Matter (DOM) is a fundamental component of the aquatic carbon cycle and a key driver of the biogeochemical interactions between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The origin, properties and role of DOM are increasingly characterised in lakes, rivers and streams, but little is known about DOM characteristics in ephemeral washes, which are the most common water flows in Mediterranean landscapes. Here, we examine the patterns in the optical properties of DOM in ephemeral washes draining a small catchment in the island of Menorca, Western Mediterranean. We used concentration data (dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen) and several spectroscopic descriptors (SUVA254, absorption coefficient at 440 nm, fluorescence index, and excitation–emission fluorescence matrices) to assess changes in DOM concentrations and quality at both seasonal and spatial scales. Two periods were clearly distinguished in the DOM properties: autumn and winter–spring. In autumn, which includes the first flows of the hydrological year, DOM showed an aromatic character and was spatially homogenous over the catchment. In winter–spring, DOM was smaller and recently produced, and a considerable spatial heterogeneity was observed in all descriptors. The variability in DOM concentrations and quality was driven by hydromorphology and by the landscape features of the catchment, but the influence of these drivers on DOM properties changed along the hydrological year. In autumn, hydromorphology was the main factor determining DOM properties, whereas in winter–spring the land uses in the watershed highly determined the observed differences in DOM quality between subcatchments.


Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) Spectroscopic properties Ephemeral streams Mediterranean catchments Seasonality 



We are especially grateful to Eusebi Vázquez for his valuable and constructive comments and to Marie Rose DosRemedios for the English corrections. This study was funded by the project CGL 2008-05095/BOS, from the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Spain). NC holds a doctoral fellowship (FI 2010–2013) from the Generalitat de Catalunya. We would like to thank Lídia Cañas for her assistance in the laboratory work. We thank two anonymous reviewers, whose comments helped improve the first version of this manuscript.


  1. Aitkenhead-Peterson JA, McDowell WH, Neff JC (2003) Sources, production, and regulation of allochthonous dissolved organic matter inputs to surface waters. In: Findlay SEG, Sinsabaugh RL (eds) Aquatic ecosystems. Interactivity of dissolved organic matter. Academic Press/Elsevier Science, Massachusetts, pp 26–59Google Scholar
  2. Álvarez-Cobelas MA, Rojo C, Angeler DG (2005) Mediterranean limnology: current status, gaps and the future. J Limnol 64:13–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amon RMW, Benner R (1996) Bacterial utilization of different size classes of dissolved organic matter. Limnol Oceanogr 41:41–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson MJ (2001) A new method for non-parametric multivariate analysis of variance. Aust Ecol 26:32–46Google Scholar
  5. APHA (American Public Health Association) (1998) Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater, 20th edn. American Public Health Association, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  6. Baker A (2002) Spectrophotometric discrimination of river dissolved organic matter. Hydrol Process 16:3203–3213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baker A, Tipping E, Thacker SA, Gondar D (2008) Relating dissolved organic matter fluorescence and functional properties. Chemosphere 73:1765–1772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Belnap J, Welter JR, Grimm NB, Barger N, Ludwig JA (2005) Linkages between microbial and hydrologic processes in arid and semiarid watersheds. Ecology 86:298–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bernal S, Butturini A, Sabater F (2005) Seasonal variations of dissolved nitrogen and DOC:DON ratios in an intermittent Mediterranean stream. Biogeochemistry 75:351–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bricaud A, Morel A, Prieur L (1981) Absorption by dissolved organic matter of the sea (yellow substance) in the UV and visible domains. Limnol Oceanogr 26:43–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brookshire ENJ, Valett HM, Thomas SA, Webster JR (2005) Coupled cycling of dissolved organic nitrogen and carbon in a forest stream. Ecology 86:2487–2496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bull WB (1997) Discontinuous ephemeral streams. Geomorphology 19:227–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bull L, Kirkby M, Shannon J, Hooke J (1999) The impact of rainstorms on floods in ephemeral channels in southeast Spain. Catena 38:191–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Butturini A, Sabater F (2000) Seasonal variability of dissolved organic carbon in a Mediterranean stream. Biogeochemistry 51:303–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Camarasa-Belmonte A, Segura-Beltrán F (2001) Flood events in Mediterranean ephemeral streams (ramblas) in Valencia region, Spain. Catena 45:229–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coble PG (1996) Characterization of marine and terrestrial DOM in seawater using excitation–emission matrix spectroscopy. Mar Chem 51:325–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cole JJ, Prairie YT, Caraco NF, McDowell WH, Tranvik LJ, Striegl RG, Duarte CM et al (2007) Plumbing the global carbon cycle: integrating inland waters into the terrestrial carbon budget. Ecosystems 10:172–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. D‘Amore VD, Fellman JB, Edwards RT, Hood E (2010) Controls on dissolved organic matter concentrations in soils and streams from a forested wetland and sloping bog in southeast Alaska. Ecohydrology 3:249–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dawson JJC, Tetzlaff D, Speed M, Hrachowitz M, Soulsby C (2011) Seasonal controls on DOC dynamics in nested upland catchments in NE Scotland. Hydrol Process 25:1647–1658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. FAO-UNESCO (1988) Soil map of the World (Revised Legend. Reprinted with corrections). World soil resources report 60. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  21. Fellman JB, Hood E, D’Amore DV, Edwards RT, White D (2009) Seasonal changes in the chemical quality and biodegradability of dissolved organic matter exported from soils to streams in coastal temperate rainforest watersheds. Biogeochemistry 95:277–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fellman JB, Hood E, Spencer RGM (2010) Fluorescence spectroscopy opens new windows into dissolved organic matter dynamics in freshwater ecosystems: a review. Limnol Oceanogr 55:2452–2462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fisher SG, Minckley WL (1978) Chemical characteristics of a desert stream in flash flood. J Arid Environ 1:25–35Google Scholar
  24. Gallegos CL, Jordan TE, Hines AH, Weller DE (2005) Temporal variability of optical properties in a shallow, eutrophic estuary: seasonal and interannual variability. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 64:156–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gasith A, Resh V (1999) Streams in Mediterranean climate regions: abiotic influences and biotic responses to predictable seasonal events. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 30:51–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ghani A, Dexter M, Carran RA, Theobald PW (2007) Dissolved organic nitrogen and carbon in pastoral soils: the New Zealand experience. Eur J Soil Sci 58(3):832–843CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Helms JR, Stubbins A, Ritchie JD, Minor EC, Kieber DJ, Mopper K (2008) Absorption spectral slopes and slope ratios as indicators of molecular weight, source, and photobleaching of chromophoric dissolved organic matter. Limnol Oceanogr 53:955–969CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hood E, Gooseff MN, Johnson SL (2006) Changes in the character of stream water dissolved organic carbon during flushing in three small watersheds, Oregon. J Geophys Res 111(G1):007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hudson N, Baker A, Reynolds D (2007) Fluorescence analysis of dissolved organic matter in natural, waste and polluted waters—a review. River Res Appl 23:631–649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Humphries P, Baldwin DS (2003) Drought and aquatic ecosystems: an introduction. Freshw Biol 48:1141–1146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Instituto Geológico y Minero de Espala (IGME) (1988) Mapa geológico de España 1:50000. Maps #618 Ciutadella, #619 Son Saura, #646 Alaior, #647 Maó. MadridGoogle Scholar
  32. Jacobson PJ, Jacobson KM, Angermeier PL, Cherry DS (2000) Variation in material transport and water chemistry along a large ephemeral river in the Namib desert. Freshw Biol 44:481–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jaffé R, McKnight D, Maie N, Cory R, McDowell WH, Campbell JL (2008) Spatial and temporal variations in DOM composition in ecosystems: the importance of long-term monitoring of optical properties. J Geophys Res 113(G4):032CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jansà A (1979) Climatologia de Menorca. In: Vidal JM (ed) Enciclopèdia de Menorca. Obra Cultural de Menorca, Maó, pp 85–160Google Scholar
  35. Kalbitz K, Geyer W, Geyer S (1999) Spectroscopic properties of dissolved humic substances? A reflection of land use history in a fen area. Biogeochemistry 47:219–238Google Scholar
  36. Keeney DR, Nelson DW (1982) Nitrogen-inorganic forms. In: Page AL et al (eds) Methods of soil analysis: part 2. Agronomy Monograph, 2nd edn. ASA and SSSA, Madison, pp 643–687Google Scholar
  37. Kirk JTO (1994) Light and photosynthesis in aquatic ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Legendre P, Dallot S, Legendre L (1985) Succession of species within a community: chronological clustering, with applications to marine and freshwater zooplankton. Am Nat 125:257–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leopold LB, Miller JP (1956) Ephemeral streams: hydraulic factors and their relation to the drainage net. U.S. geological survey professional paper 282-A. United States Government Printing Office, Washington DC, p 37Google Scholar
  40. Lutz BD, Bernhardt ES, Roberts BJ, Mulholland PJ (2011) Examining the coupling of carbon and nitrogen cycles in Appalachian streams: the role of dissolved organic nitrogen. Ecology 92(3):720–732CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Markager S, Stedmon CA, Søndergaard M (2011) Seasonal dynamics and conservative mixing of dissolved organic matter in the temperate eutrophic estuary Horsens Fjord. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 92(3):376–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Martín-Vide J, Niñerola D, Bateman A, Navarro A, Velasco E (1999) Runoff and sediment transport in a torrential ephemeral stream of the Mediterranean coast. J Hydrol 225:118–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. McKnight DM, Boyer EW, Westerhoff P, Doran PT, Kulbe T, Andersen DT (2001) Spectrofluorometric characterization of dissolved organic matter for indication of precursor organic material and aromaticity. Limnol Oceanogr 46:38–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mullholland PJ (2003) Large-scale patterns in dissolved organic carbon concentration, flux, and sources. In: Findlay SEG, Sinsabaugh RL (eds) Aquatic ecosystems. Interactivity of dissolved organic matter. Academic Press/Elsevier Science, Massachusetts, pp 139–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Neff JC, Chapin SF, Vitousek PM (2003) Breaks in the cycle: dissolved organic nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems. Front Ecol Environ 1(4):205–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Obrador B, Moreno-Ostos E, Pretus JL (2008) A dynamic model to simulate water level and salinity in a Mediterranean coastal lagoon. Estuar Coast 31:1117–1129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Oksanen J, Blanchet FG, Kindt R, Legendre P, O’Hara RB, Simpson GL, Solymos P, Stevens H, Wagner H (2011) Vegan: community ecology package. R package version 1.17-10.
  48. Oni SK, Futter MN, Dillon PJ (2011) Landscape-scale control of carbon budget of Lake Simcoe: a process-based modelling approach. J Great Lakes Res 37:160–165. doi: 10.1016/j.jglr.2010.05.003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pellerin BA, Kaushal SS, McDowell WH (2006) Does anthropogenic nitrogen enrichment increase organic nitrogen concentrations in runoff from forested and human-dominated watersheds? Ecosystems 9(5):852–864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pretus JL (1989) Limnología de la Albufera de Menorca (Menorca, España). Limnetica 5:69–81Google Scholar
  51. Quinn GP, Keough MJ (2002) Experimental design and data analysis for biologists. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. R Development Core Team (2011) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna. ISBN 3-900051-07-0.
  53. Romaní AM, Vázquez E, Butturini A (2006) Microbial availability and size fractionation of dissolved organic carbon after drought in an intermittent stream: biogeochemical link across the stream-riparian interface. Microb Ecol 52:501–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Senesi N, Mian TM, Provenzano MR, Brunetti G (1991) Characterization, differentiation, and classification of humic substances by fluorescence spectroscopy. Soil Sci 152:259–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Stedmon C, Markager S (2005) Tracing the production and degradation of autochthonous fractions of dissolved organic matter by fluorescence analysis. Limnol Oceanogr 50:1415–1426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Vázquez E, Amalfitano S, Fazi S, Butturini A (2010) Dissolved organic matter composition in a fragmented Mediterranean fluvial system under severe drought conditions. Biogeochemistry 102:59–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Weishaar JL, Aiken GR, Bergamaschi BA, Fram MS, Fujii R, Mopper K (2003) Evaluation of specific ultraviolet absorbance as an indicator of the chemical composition and reactivity of dissolved organic carbon. Environ Sci Technol 37:4702–4708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Westerhoff P, Anning D (2000) Concentrations and characteristics of organic carbon in surface water in Arizona: influence of urbanization. J Hydrol 236:202–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wetzel RG (2001) Limnology: lake and river ecosystems. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  60. Williams CJ, Yamashita Y, Wilson HF, Jaffé R, Xenopoulos MA (2010) Unraveling the role of land use and microbial activity in shaping dissolved organic matter characteristics in stream ecosystems. Limnol Oceanogr 55(3):1159–1171CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Núria Catalán
    • 1
  • Biel Obrador
    • 1
  • Carmen Alomar
    • 1
  • Joan Ll. Pretus
    • 1
  1. 1.Departament d’EcologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations