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Particulate organic matter distribution along the lower Amazon River: addressing aquatic ecology concepts using fatty acids

Mortillaro J.M., Rigal F., Rybarczyk H., Bernardes M.C., Abril G., Meziane T.. 2012. PloS One, 7 (9) : 10 p..

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046141

One of the greatest challenges in understanding the Amazon basin functioning is to ascertain the role played by floodplains in the organic matter (OM) cycle, crucial for a large spectrum of ecological mechanisms. Fatty acids (FAs) were combined with environmental descriptors and analyzed through multivariate and spatial tools (asymmetric eigenvector maps, AEM and principal coordinates of neighbor matrices, PCNM). This challenge allowed investigating the distribution of suspended particulate organic matter (SPOM), in order to trace its seasonal origin and quality, along a 800 km section of the Amazon river-floodplain system. Statistical analysis confirmed that large amounts of saturated FAs (15:0, 18:0, 24:0, 25:0 and 26:0), an indication of refractory OM, were concomitantly recorded with high pCO2 in rivers, during the high water season (HW). Contrastingly, FAs marker which may be attributed in this ecosystem to aquatic plants (18:2¿6 and 18:3¿3) and cyanobacteria (16:1¿7), were correlated with higher O2, chlorophyll a and pheopigments in floodplains, due to a high primary production during low waters (LW). Decreasing concentrations of unsaturated FAs, that characterize labile OM, were recorded during HW, from upstream to downstream. Furthermore, using PCNM and AEM spatial methods, FAs compositions of SPOM displayed an upstream-downstream gradient during HW, which was attributed to OM retention and the extent of flooded forest in floodplains. Discrimination of OM quality between the Amazon River and floodplains corroborate higher autotrophic production in the latter and transfer of OM to rivers at LW season. Together, these gradients demonstrate the validity of FAs as predictors of spatial and temporal changes in OM quality. These spatial and temporal trends are explained by 1) downstream change in landscape morphology as predicted by the River Continuum Concept; 2) enhanced primary production during LW when the water level decreased and its residence time increased as predicted by the Flood Pulse Concept.

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