Headwater ephemeral tributaries are interfaces between uplands and downstream waters. Terrestrial coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) is important in fueling aquatic ecosystems; however, the extent to which ephemeral tributaries are functionally connected to downstream waters through fluvial transport of CPOM has been little studied. Hydrology and deposition of leaf and wood, and surrogate transport (Ginkgo biloba leaves and wood dowels) were measured over month‐long intervals through the winter and spring seasons (6 months) in 10 ephemeral tributaries (1.3–5.4 ha) in eastern Kentucky. Leaf deposition and surrogate transport varied over time, reflecting the seasonality of litterfall and runoff. Leaf deposition was higher in December than February and May but did not differ from January, March, and April. Mean percent of surrogate leaf transport from the ephemeral tributaries was highest in April (3.6% per day) and lowest in February (2.5%) and May (2%). Wood deposition and transport had similar patterns. No CPOM measures were related to flow frequency. Ephemeral tributaries were estimated to annually contribute 110.6 kg AFDM·km−1·yr−1 of leaves to the downstream mainstem. Ephemeral tributaries are functionally connected to downstream waters through CPOM storage and subsequent release that is timed when CPOM is often limited in downstream waters.

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Published in Ecosphere, v. 10, issue 3, article e02654, p. 1-18.

© 2019 The Authors.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Additional Supporting Information may be found online at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecs2.2654/full

ecs22654-sup-0001-appendixs1.pdf (133 kB)
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