Catchment characteristics determine the inputs of sediments and nutrients to streams. As a result, natural or anthropogenic disturbance of upland soil and vegetation can affect instream processes. The Fort Benning Military Installation (near Columbus, Georgia) exhibits a wide range of upland disturbance levels because of spatial variability in the intensity of military training. This gradient of disturbance was used to investigate the effect of upland soil and vegetation disturbance on rates of stream metabolism (ecosystem respiration rate [ER] and gross primary production rate [GPP]). Stream metabolism was measured using an open-system, single-station approach. All streams were net heterotrophic during all seasons. ER was highest in winter and spring and lowest in summer and autumn. ER was negatively correlated with catchment disturbance level in winter, spring, and summer, but not in autumn. ER was positively correlated with abundance of coarse woody debris, but not significantly related to % benthic organic matter. GPP was low in all streams and generally not significantly correlated with disturbance level. Our results suggest that the generally intact riparian zones of these streams were not sufficient to protect them from the effect of upland disturbance, and they emphasize the role of the entire catchment in determining stream structure and function.
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