Establishing Sycamore Creek Watershed as a Reference System for Midwestern Mesic Hardwood Forests
Team: Jeffrey White, Todd Royer and Flynn Picardal, Indiana University
Relatively pristine watersheds in the Midwestern US are uncommon and thus critical to biodiversity in the highly fragmented forested landscapes of this region. Headwater streams and wetlands influence hydrological and nutrient dynamics downstream through important biogeochemical processes that occur in soils, water and sediments of these systems. Anthropogenic impacts on stream and wetland ecosystem processes are receiving increasing focus from funding agencies as we identify complicated feedbacks between land-use, regional climate change and ecosystem structure and function. Small watersheds have long been recognized as a useful tool for investigating how ecosystems respond to changes caused by both natural and human perturbations. However, in the Midwest, we lack effective control sites that are essential to successful research strategies. Sycamore Creek Watershed represents one of the least impacted catchments in this region – possibly a singular opportunity in the mesic hardwood forests of southern Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.
The Sycamore Creek watershed is located at Indiana University's Bradford Woods and under the auspices of the Indiana University Research and Teaching Preserve (IURTP). It provides a wide range of habitats for the study of natural systems, including the perennial stream, Sycamore Creek. This watershed offers a unique gradient of connected aquatic habitats, including small groundwater seeps, a minimally disturbed headwater stream, a reservoir, and a hydrologically-dynamic wetland system at the transition from stream to reservoir. Much of the watershed is remote and undisturbed with secure limited access.
We have begun baseline research that will help establish this area as a long-term, multi-user research site for the study of aquatic biogeochemistry and microbiology. Our work focuses on an examination of the biogeochemical transformations of nitrogen within the Sycamore Creek watershed system from headwaters to the drainage wetland complex at the outlet to the catchment. In addition, we are examining basic water chemistry, macroinvertebrate population dynamics, nutrient cycling, and sediment microbial composition along the primary stream channel of the watershed. With our research as a foundation, the Sycamore Creek watershed will serve as a very good control site for comparison studies involving other more impacted watersheds in the Midwest.