Phosphorus Forms in Sediments as Indicators of Anthropic Pressures in an Agricultural Catchment in Southern Brazil

ABSTRACT Phosphorus (P) fractionation is a suitable procedure to ascertain P lability in sediments and is able to distinguish sources of P under different soil management practices in a catchment. Brazil is the second largest producer and the largest exporter of tobacco in the world. Inadequate management of cultivated areas exposes the soil to erosion processes, accelerating the transfer of sediment and P to water bodies, which leads to eutrophication. We evaluated the P forms in suspended sediments collected at two rainfall events in the stream of a small catchment in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The samples were collected upstream and downstream areas in three sub-catchments with different degrees of anthropogenic pressure and in three phases of the hydrograph in the catchment outlet. The first rainfall event occurred during the fallow period, and the second one, during the period of transplanting the tobacco crop. The sediment P forms were evaluated by successive extractions, following the Hedley method. The results showed that an increase in anthropogenic pressure leads to an increase in total inorganic P and a decrease in the levels of organic C and total organic P in sediments. In the control area, the quantity and quality of the eroded material remained the same in both rainfall events. The levels of total P in sediment alone were not sufficient to evaluate the influence of the soil management practices prevalent in each sampling period. However, P fractionation shows that during the tobacco transplanting period, P in sediments was mainly in labile fractions, and rainfall during this period was more likely to promote the eutrophication process. Sediments carried in runoff during the tobacco transplanting period have larger amounts of available P than those borne during rainfall in the fallow period.