Urban pollution and hydrological stress effects on ecosystem functions of Mediterranean streams

  • Sewage led to complex effects on stream ecosystem functioning.•
  • The contribution of hydrological stress was minor.•
  • Water quality (specifically pharmaceuticals) was related to stream functioning changes.
  • Biofilm-level processes showed more consistent patterns than ecosystem-level ones.
  • These effects will become more frequent in following years, due to global change.

Urban pollution and hydrological stress are common stressors of stream ecosystems, but their combined effects on ecosystem functioning are still unclear. We measured a set of functional processes and accompanying environmental variables in locations upstream and downstream of urban sewage inputs in 13 streams covering a wide range of water pollution levels and hydrological variability. Sewage inputs seriously impaired stream chemical characteristics and led to complex effects on ecosystem functioning. Biofilm biomass accrual, whole-reach nutrient uptake and metabolism (ecosystem respiration) were generally subsidized, whereas organic matter decomposition and biofilm phosphorus uptake capacity decreased with increasing pollutant concentrations. Hydrological stress affected stream ecosystem functioning but its effect was minor compared to the effects of urban pollution, due to the large inter-site variability of the streams. Changes appeared mainly linked to the concentration of pharmaceutically active compounds, followed by other chemical characteristics and by hydrology. The results point to the need to further improve sewage treatment, especially as climate change will stress riverine organisms and reduce the dilution capacity of the receiving streams.

Pereda, O., von Schiller, D., García-Baquero, G., Mor, J. R., Acuña, V., Sabater, S., & Elosegi, A. (2021). Combined effects of urban pollution and hydrological stress on ecosystem functions of Mediterranean streams. Science of The Total Environment753, 141971.

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