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Concept: River


The Three Gorges Dam has significantly altered ecological and environmental conditions within the reservoir region, but how these changes affect bacterioplankton structure and function is unknown. Here, three widely accepted metagenomic tools were employed to study the impact of damming on the bacterioplankton community in the Xiangxi River. Our results indicated that bacterioplankton communities were both taxonomically and functionally different between backwater and riverine sites, which represent communities with and without direct dam effects, respectively. There were many more nitrogen cycling Betaproteobacteria (e.g., Limnohabitans), and a higher abundance of functional genes and KEGG orthology (KO) groups involved in nitrogen cycling in the riverine sites, suggesting a higher level of bacterial activity involved in generating more nitrogenous nutrients for the growth of phytoplankton. Additionally, the KO categories involved in carbon and sulfur metabolism, as well as most of the detected functional genes also showed clear backwater and riverine patterns. As expected, these diversity patterns all significantly correlated with environmental characteristics, confirming that the bacterioplankton communities in the Xiangxi River were really affected by environmental changes from the Three Gorges Dam. This study provides a first comparative metagenomic insight for evaluating the impacts of the large dam on microbial function.

Concepts: Oxygen, Bacteria, Metabolism, Nitrogen, River, Dam, Three Gorges Dam, Three Gorges


Longitudinal connectivity is a fundamental characteristic of rivers that can be disrupted by natural and anthropogenic processes. Dams are significant disruptions to streams. Over 2,000,000 low-head dams (<7.6 m high) fragment United States rivers. Despite potential adverse impacts of these ubiquitous disturbances, the spatial impacts of low-head dams on geomorphology and ecology are largely untested. Progress for research and conservation is impaired by not knowing the magnitude of low-head dam impacts. Based on the geomorphic literature, we refined a methodology that allowed us to quantify the spatial extent of low-head dam impacts (herein dam footprint), assessed variation in dam footprints across low-head dams within a river network, and identified select aspects of the context of this variation. Wetted width, depth, and substrate size distributions upstream and downstream of six low-head dams within the Upper Neosho River, Kansas, United States of America were measured. Total dam footprints averaged 7.9 km (3.0-15.3 km) or 287 wetted widths (136-437 wetted widths). Estimates included both upstream (mean: 6.7 km or 243 wetted widths) and downstream footprints (mean: 1.2 km or 44 wetted widths). Altogether the six low-head dams impacted 47.3 km (about 17%) of the mainstem in the river network. Despite differences in age, size, location, and primary function, the sizes of geomorphic footprints of individual low-head dams in the Upper Neosho river network were relatively similar. The number of upstream dams and distance to upstream dams, but not dam height, affected the spatial extent of dam footprints. In summary, ubiquitous low-head dams individually and cumulatively altered lotic ecosystems. Both characteristics of individual dams and the context of neighboring dams affected low-head dam impacts within the river network. For these reasons, low-head dams require a different, more integrative, approach for research and management than the individualistic approach that has been applied to larger dams.

Concepts: United States, River, Individualism, Dam, Flood, Geomorphology, Sediment transport, Levee


Water management that alters riverine ecosystem processes has strongly influenced deltas and the people who depend on them, but a full accounting of the trade-offs is still emerging. Using palaeoecological data, we document a surprising biogeochemical consequence of water management in the Colorado River basin. Complete allocation and consumptive use of the river’s flow has altered the downstream estuarine ecosystem, including the abundance and composition of the mollusc community, an important component in estuarine carbon cycling. In particular, population declines in the endemic Colorado delta clam, Mulinia coloradoensis, from 50–125 individuals m(-2) in the pre-dam era to three individuals m(-2) today, have likely resulted in a reduction, on the order of 5900-15 000 t C yr(-1) (4.1-10.6 mol C m(-2) yr(-1)), in the net carbon emissions associated with molluscs. Although this reduction is large within the estuarine system, it is small in comparison with annual global carbon emissions. Nonetheless, this finding highlights the need for further research into the effects of dams, diversions and reservoirs on the biogeochemistry of deltas and estuaries worldwide, underscoring a present need for integrated water and carbon planning.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Water, River, Estuary, River delta, Colorado River, Mactridae


Microplastics result from fragmentation of plastic debris or are released to the environment as pre-production pellets or components of consumer and industrial products. In the oceans, they contribute to the ‘great garbage patches’. They are ingested by many organisms, from protozoa to baleen whales, and pose a threat to the aquatic fauna. Although as much as 80% of marine debris originates from land, little attention was given to the role of rivers as debris pathways to the sea. Worldwide, not a single great river has yet been studied for the surface microplastics load over its length. We report the abundance and composition of microplastics at the surface of the Rhine, one of the largest European rivers. Measurements were made at 11 locations over a stretch of 820 km. Microplastics were found in all samples, with 892,777 particles km (-2) on average. In the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area, a peak concentration of 3.9 million particles km (-2) was measured. Microplastics concentrations were diverse along and across the river, reflecting various sources and sinks such as waste water treatment plants, tributaries and weirs. Measures should be implemented to avoid and reduce the pollution with anthropogenic litter in aquatic ecosystems.

Concepts: Water, Water pollution, River, Sewage treatment, Sea, Ocean, Aquatic ecology, Rhine


The interrelationships between hydrologically driven evolution of legacy landscapes downstream of major mining districts and the contamination of lowland ecosystems are poorly understood over centennial time scales. Here, we demonstrate within piedmont valleys of California’s Sierra Nevada, through new and historical data supported by modeling, that anthropogenic fans produced by 19th century gold mining comprise an episodically persistent source of sediment-adsorbed Hg to lowlands. Within the enormous, iconic Yuba Fan, we highlight (i) an apparent shift in the relative processes of fan evolution from gradual vertical channel entrenchment to punctuated lateral erosion of fan terraces, thus enabling entrainment of large volumes of Hg-laden sediment during individual floods, and (ii) systematic intrafan redistribution and downstream progradation of fan sediment into the Central Valley, triggered by terrace erosion during increasingly long, 10-y flood events. Each major flood apparently erodes stored sediment and delivers to sensitive lowlands the equivalent of ∼10-30% of the entire postmining Sierran Hg mass so far conveyed to the San Francisco Bay-Delta (SFBD). This process of protracted but episodic erosion of legacy sediment and associated Hg is likely to persist for >10(4) y. It creates, within an immense swath of river corridor well upstream of the SFBD, new contaminated floodplain surfaces primed for Hg methylation and augments/replenishes potential Hg sources to the SFBD. Anticipation, prediction, and management of toxic sediment delivery, and corresponding risks to lowland ecology and human society globally, depend on the morphodynamic stage of anthropogenic fan evolution, synergistically coupled to changing frequency of and duration extreme floods.

Concepts: Sediment, River, Erosion, California, California Gold Rush, Flood, Terrace


Global biomass burning generates 40 million to 250 million tons of charcoal every year, part of which is preserved for millennia in soils and sediments. We have quantified dissolution products of charcoal in a wide range of rivers worldwide and show that globally, a major portion of the annual charcoal production is lost from soils via dissolution and subsequent transport to the ocean. The global flux of soluble charcoal accounts to 26.5 ± 1.8 million tons per year, which is ~10% of the global riverine flux of dissolved organic carbon (DOC). We suggest that the mobilization of charcoal and DOC out of soils is mechanistically coupled. This study closes a major gap in the global charcoal budget and provides critical information in the context of geoengineering.

Concepts: River, Charcoal, Ocean, Wind, Canal, Globalization, Global warming, Pyrolysis


Aquacultures are of great economic importance worldwide but pollute pristine headwater streams, lakes, and estuaries. However, there are no in-depth studies of the consequences of aquacultures on dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition and structure. We performed a detailed molecular level characterization of aquaculture DOM quality and its bacterial degradation using four salmon aquacultures in Chile. Fluorescence measurements, ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the DOM revealed specific and extensive molecular alterations caused by aquacultures. Aquacultures released large quantities of readily bioavailable metabolites (primarily carbohydrates and peptides/proteins, and lipids), causing the organic matter downstream of all the investigated aquacultures to deviate strongly from the highly processed, polydisperse and molecularly heterogeneous DOM found in pristine rivers. However, the upstream individual catchment DOM signatures remained distinguishable at the downstream sites. The benthic algal biovolume decreased and the bacterial biovolume and production increased downstream of the aquacultures, shifting stream ecosystems to a more heterotrophic state and thus impairing the ecosystem health. The bacterial DOM degradation rates explain the attenuation of aquaculture DOM within the subsequent stream reaches. This knowledge may aid the development of improved waste processing facilities and may help to define emission thresholds to protect sensitive stream ecosystems.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Molecular biology, Nuclear magnetic resonance, River, Stream, In vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy, Aquaculture, Geomorphology


Indian Himalayan basins are earmarked for widespread dam building, but aggregate effects of these dams on terrestrial ecosystems are unknown. We mapped distribution of 292 dams (under construction and proposed) and projected effects of these dams on terrestrial ecosystems under different scenarios of land-cover loss. We analyzed land-cover data of the Himalayan valleys, where dams are located. We estimated dam density on fifth- through seventh-order rivers and compared these estimates with current global figures. We used a species-area relation model (SAR) to predict short- and long-term species extinctions driven by deforestation. We used scatter plots and correlation studies to analyze distribution patterns of species and dams and to reveal potential overlap between species-rich areas and dam sites. We investigated effects of disturbance on community structure of undisturbed forests. Nearly 90% of Indian Himalayan valleys would be affected by dam building and 27% of these dams would affect dense forests. Our model projected that 54,117 ha of forests would be submerged and 114,361 ha would be damaged by dam-related activities. A dam density of 0.3247/1000 km(2) would be nearly 62 times greater than current average global figures; the average of 1 dam for every 32 km of river channel would be 1.5 times higher than figures reported for U.S. rivers. Our results show that most dams would be located in species-rich areas of the Himalaya. The SAR model projected that by 2025, deforestation due to dam building would likely result in extinction of 22 angiosperm and 7 vertebrate taxa. Disturbance due to dam building would likely reduce tree species richness by 35%, tree density by 42%, and tree basal cover by 30% in dense forests. These results, combined with relatively weak national environmental impact assessment and implementation, point toward significant loss of species if all proposed dams in the Indian Himalaya are constructed. Efectos Potenciales del Desarrollo Hidroeléctrico Actual y Propuesto sobre la Diversidad Biológica Terrestre en el Himalaya Hindú

Concepts: Biodiversity, River, Extinction, Dam, Impact assessment, Hydroelectricity, Himalayas, Environmental impact assessment


The seasonal variations and spatial distributions of 4-tert-octylphenol (OP), 4-nonylphenol (NP) and bisphenol A (BPA) in surface waters, suspended solids and surface sediments in the Huangpu River and its tributaries (Suzhou River and Yunzao Brook) were firstly investigated. The mean concentrations of OP, NP and BPA in the three rivers were 10.59, 120.96 and 22.93 ng L in surface waters, 199.87, 2,300.87 and 84.11 ng g in suspended solids and 9.49, 119.44 and 7.13 ng g dry weight in surface sediments, respectively. The concentrations of NP and OP were higher in summer than in winter in the suspended solids and surface sediments, while the reverse was true in surface waters. Similarly, the levels of BPA were lower in summer than in winter in surface sediments, while the opposite was true in surface waters and suspended solids. These seasonal variations might be attributed to temperature and stream flows. High levels of OP, NP and BPA were found in surrounding river intersections, residential and industrial areas. Their concentrations decreased gradually with increasing distance from those areas, while the lowest levels were measured in near less urbanized and agricultural areas. These phenomena might indicate that the stream current and pollutant source were the major factors that affect the spatial distributions of OP, NP and BPA in the three rivers. Ecological risk assessment indicated that NP was the only one of the three pollutants with the potential to influence local aquatic organisms. The results of this study provide scientific support for control of these pollutants.

Concepts: Bisphenol A, River, Stream, Shanghai, Huangpu River, Suzhou Creek, The Bund, Geography of Shanghai


The Croatian part of the Danube River extends over 188 km and comprises 58 % of the country’s overall area used for commercial freshwater fishing. To date, the heavy metal contamination of fish in the Croatian part of the Danube has not been studied. The main purpose of this study was to determine heavy metal levels in muscle tissue of sampled fish species and to analyze the measured values according to feeding habits of particular groups. Lead ranged from 0.015 μg(-1) dry weight in planktivorous to 0.039 μg(-1) dry weight in herbivorous fish, cadmium from 0.013 μg(-1) dry weight in herbivorous to 0.018 μg(-1) dry weight in piscivorous fish, mercury from 0.191 μg(-1) dry weight in omnivorous to 0.441 μg(-1) dry weight in planktivorous fish and arsenic from 0.018 μg(-1) dry weight in planktivorous to 0.039 μg(-1) dry weight in omnivorous fish. Among the analyzed metals in muscle tissue of sampled fish, only mercury exceeded the maximal level (0.5 mg kg(-1)) permitted according to the national and EU regulations determining maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs, indicating a hazard for consumers of fish from the Danube River.

Concepts: River, Toxicology, Lead, Serbia, Heavy metal music, Heavy metal, Romania, Danube