Managers tasked with repairing degraded stream ecosystems require restoration strategies that are tailored to local and regional characteristics. Emerging evidence suggests that local reach-scale approaches may be as effective, if not more so, than catchment-scale actions in highly permeable coastal landscapes, particularly if there is hydraulic connectivity to shallow groundwater and where recharge is strongly seasonal. This study assessed the relative influence of catchment-scale land use and reach-scale vegetation structure on the distribution of carbon and nutrient concentrations of streams within urban and agricultural catchments of the Perth region of south-western Australia. We used linear mixed-effects models to evaluate the extent to which phosphorus, nitrogen and carbon concentrations in different stream zones (streamwater, and fluvial and parafluvial sediments) were explained by catchment and reach-scale attributes and moderated by high versus low-flow periods, i.e., in wet versus dry months. We found that reach-scale vegetation (woody plant cover, annual plant cover) was a better predictor of nutrient concentrations than catchment-scale land use, particularly total imperviousness, a common measure of urbanisation. Flow was also important, with carbon and nutrient concentrations better described by reach- or catchment-scale attributes during the low flow period. The extent to which individual catchment and reach attributes influenced the distribution of nutrients in different stream zones was complex. However, our results suggest that planting woody vegetation can reduce nitrogen concentrations in surface water and fluvial sediments. Reducing the abundance of weedy annual species and restoring woody perennial species may further reduce phosphorus concentrations in surface water. We conclude that local riparian restoration can be a cost-effective strategy for managing excess nutrients and carbon in flat and permeable urban landscapes, particularly during low flow periods.

Last updated: 21st Jul 2020