High resolution molecular characterization of photochemical and microbial transformation of dissolved organic matter in temperate streams of different watershed land use
The objective of the present study was to provide better understanding of the effects of watershed land use on molecular composition of streamwater DOM and molecular transformations associated with photochemical and microbial processing of DOM. We compared DOM from headwater streams draining forest-dominated watersheds (FW) and pasture-dominated watersheds (PW) in the lower Chesapeake Bay region (Virginia, USA). Electrospray Ionization Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometry analysis was conducted on streamwater DOM prior to and after laboratory incubations: 1) bacteria-only incubations; 2) light-only incubations; and 3) combined light+bacterial incubations. Results showed that DOM in FW streams and PW streams differed in molecular characteristics--the former was characterized by greater structural complexity and aromaticity, higher proportions of condensed aromatic molecules and black carbon-like components, while the latter was higher in the proportions of lipid-like components, protein-like components and aliphatic compounds. Relative to DOM from FW streams, DOM from PW streams was more reactive to bacterial transformation. Protein-like components, lipid-like components and unsaturated hydrocarbon-like components are primarily responsible for the changes associated with bacterial transformation of DOM. However, similar behavior was also observed for DOM in FW streams and PW streams under the influence of bacterial and photochemical processes. Bacterial transformation reduced the proportions of lipid-like components but increased the proportions of lignin-like components and carboxyl-rich alicyclic molecule-like components, indicating that lipid-like components was a bioreactive class while lignin-like components and carboxyl-rich alicyclic were resistant to bacterial processing. Photochemical processes, alone or combined with microbial alterations, increased the proportions of protein-like components, which may be due to the light stimulation of autochthonous production of protein-like components, and increased the relative abundance of carboxyl-rich alicyclic molecule-like components, which indicates the refractory nature of these molecules. Photochemical processes also significantly reduced the amount of dissolved black carbon-like components, which suggests dissolved black carbon was a photoreactive class, countering the conventional view that black carbon was an inter group in carbon cycle. Collectively, these findings suggest that human land use in upstream watersheds may lead to alterations to the molecular composition of streamwater DOM as well as to its behavior to photochemical and microbial processing.