Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 1757–1769, 2011

Special issue: Restored river corridor dynamics

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 1757–1769, 2011

Research article 06 Jun 2011

Research article | 06 Jun 2011

Heterogeneity of soil carbon pools and fluxes in a channelized and a restored floodplain section (Thur River, Switzerland)

E. Samaritani1,2,4,*, J. Shrestha3,*, B. Fournier1,2,4, E. Frossard5, F. Gillet2,6, C. Guenat2, P. A. Niklaus7, N. Pasquale8, K. Tockner9, E. A. D. Mitchell1,2,4, and J. Luster3 E. Samaritani et al.
  • 1Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 2Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Laboratory of Ecological Systems, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 3Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research, Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
  • 4Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile Argand 11, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • 5Institute of Agricultural Sciences ETH Zurich, Eschikon 33, 8315 Lindau, Switzerland
  • 6Laboratoire Chrono-Environnement, UMR 6249 CNRS, Université de Franche-Comté, 16 route de Gray, 25030 Besançon cedex, France
  • 7Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 8Institute of Environmental Engineering ETH Zurich, Schaffmattstrasse 6, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 9Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), and Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, Müggelseedamm 310, 12587, Berlin, Germany
  • *These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract. Due to their spatial complexity and dynamic nature, floodplains provide a wide range of ecosystem functions. However, because of flow regulation, many riverine floodplains have lost their characteristic heterogeneity. Restoration of floodplain habitats and the rehabilitation of key ecosystem functions, many of them linked to organic carbon (C) dynamics in riparian soils, has therefore become a major goal of environmental policy. The fundamental understanding of the factors that drive the processes involved in C cycling in heterogeneous and dynamic systems such as floodplains is however only fragmentary.

We quantified soil organic C pools (microbial C and water extractable organic C) and fluxes (soil respiration and net methane production) in functional process zones of adjacent channelized and widened sections of the Thur River, NE Switzerland, on a seasonal basis. The objective was to assess how spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability of these pools and fluxes relate to physicochemical soil properties on one hand, and to soil environmental conditions and flood disturbance on the other hand.

Overall, factors related to seasonality and flooding (temperature, water content, organic matter input) affected soil C dynamics more than soil properties did. Coarse-textured soils on gravel bars in the restored section were characterized by low base-levels of organic C pools due to low TOC contents. However, frequent disturbance by flood pulses led to high heterogeneity with temporarily and locally increased C pools and soil respiration. By contrast, in stable riparian forests, the finer texture of the soils and corresponding higher TOC contents and water retention capacity led to high base-levels of C pools. Spatial heterogeneity was low, but major floods and seasonal differences in temperature had additional impacts on both pools and fluxes. Soil properties and base levels of C pools in the dam foreland of the channelized section were similar to the gravel bars of the restored section. By contrast, spatial heterogeneity, seasonal effects and flood disturbance were similar to the forests, except for indications of high CH4 production that are explained by long travel times of infiltrating water favoring reducing conditions. Overall, the restored section exhibited both a larger range and a higher heterogeneity of organic C pools and fluxes as well as a higher plant biodiversity than the channelized section. This suggests that restoration has indeed led to an increase in functional diversity.