Journal of Tropical Ecology

Research Article

Solute behaviour and export rates in neotropical montane catchments under different land-uses

Amelie Bückera1, Patricio Crespoa1a2, Hans-Georg Fredea1 and Lutz Breuera1 c1

a1 Research Centre for BioSystems, Land Use and Nutrition (IFZ), Institute for Landscape Ecology and Resources Management, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, Heinrich-Buff Ring 26, 35392 Giessen, Germany

a2 Grupo de Ciencias de la Tierra y del Ambiente, DIUC, Universidad de Cuenca, Quinta de Balzain, Av. Victor Manuel Albornoz, Cuenca, Ecuador


To improve our knowledge of the influence of land-use on solute behaviour and export rates in neotropical montane catchments we investigated total organic carbon (TOC), Ca, Mg, Na, K, NO3 and SO4 concentrations during April 2007–May 2008 at different flow conditions and over time in six forested and pasture-dominated headwaters (0.7–76 km2) in Ecuador. NO3 and SO4 concentrations decreased during the study period, with a continual decrease in NO3 and an abrupt decrease in February 2008 for SO4. We attribute this to changing weather regimes connected to a weakening La Niña event. Stream Na concentration decreased in all catchments, and Mg and Ca concentration decreased in all but the forested catchments during storm flow. Under all land-uses TOC increased at high flows. The differences in solute behaviour during storm flow might be attributed to largely shallow subsurface and surface flow paths in pasture streams on the one hand, and a predominant origin of storm flow from the organic layer in the forested streams on the other hand. Nutrient export rates in the forested streams were comparable to the values found in literature for tropical streams. They amounted to 6–8 kg ha−1 y−1 for Ca, 7–8 kg ha−1 y−1 for K, 4–5 kg ha−1 y−1 for Mg, 11–14 kg ha−1 y−1 for Na, 19–22 kg ha−1 y−1 for NO3 (i.e. 4.3–5.0 kg ha−1 y−1 NO3-N) and 17 kg ha−1 y−1 for SO4. Our data contradict the assumption that nutrient export increases with the loss of forest cover. For NO3 we observed a positive correlation of export value and percentage forest cover.

(Accepted November 18 2010)

(Online publication March 10 2011)


c1 Corresponding author. Email: