Best management practices (BMPs) are tools commonly used to mitigate negative impacts of agriculture on water quality; however, the relationship between BMPs and aquatic ecological function is unknown. Our research goal was to determine the association between both stream ecosystem metabolism and water quality, and the abundance and location of four different BMPs in agricultural catchments. Dissolved oxygen was measured over a two-week period in mid-June and used to estimate ecosystem metabolism of 13 headwater streams representing a gradient of BMP implementation in Southern Ontario, Canada. Stepwise regression analyses were used to associate stream metabolism and water quality with metrics describing the abundance and location of BMPs within each catchment. Studied streams exhibited rates of metabolism comparable to catchments from other agricultural regions. However, metrics of BMP implementation were not associated with either stream metabolism or water quality. Our results suggest that BMPs in the studied agricultural catchments are not improving water quality or mitigating water quality impacts on stream metabolism during the summer season. We propose that seasonality of catchment hydrology and time lag effects associated with past agricultural land use may be masking the mitigation benefits of BMPs on stream ecosystem conditions during the summer season.
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