Understanding Variation in Water Quality using a Riverscape Perspective
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
With the increasing degradation of rivers worldwide, an understanding of spatial and temporal patterns in freshwater quality is important. Water quality is highly variable in space and time, yet this is largely overlooked at the scale of stream catchments. I employed a landscape ecology approach to examine the spatial patterning of water quality in complex, impacted stream networks on the Canterbury Plains of the South Island of New Zealand, with the goal of understanding how land-use effects proliferate through stream systems. In particular, I used “snapshot” sampling events in conjunction with spatial modelling and longitudinal profiles to investigate the ways in which spatial and environmental factors influence the variability of water quality in stream networks. Spatial eigenfunction analyses showed that distance measures, which took into account variable connectivity by flow and distance along the stream between sites, explained more spatial variance in water quality than traditional distance metrics. Small upstream reaches were more spatially and temporally variable than main stems (under summer base-flow conditions). The extent of spatial variation in water quality differed between stream networks, potentially depending on linkages to groundwater and the surrounding landscape. My results indicated that the water quality of headwater streams can have a disproportionate influence over water quality throughout an entire network. I investigated spatio-temporal patterns in water quality more intensively in one stream network, the Cam River, in which I found consistent spatial pattern through time. The relative balance between nutrient inputs (pollution and groundwater) and in-stream conditions influenced the spatial pattern of water quality, as well as that of several ecosystem processes which I measured simultaneously. The spatially intensive and explicit approach has allowed identification of key factors controlling water quality and ecosystem processes throughout the Cam River. This research highlights the importance of taking a spatially explicit approach when studying stream water quality and that such an approach could be insightful and will contribute to solving current stream management problems.