The Hidden Watershed's Journals: the Informational Characteristics of Biomarkers in Sedimentary Deposits

Monday, 15 December 2014
Francisco J. Guerrero and Jeff A Hatten, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States
The historical reconstruction of past environmental changes in watersheds is essential to understand watershed response to disturbances and how those diturbances could affect the provision of valuable goods like water. That reconstruction requires the interpretation of natural records, mainly associated to sedimentary deposits that store detailed information in the form of specific biogenic molecules (i.e. biomarkers). In forested watersheds terrestrial vegetation is an important source of biomarkers like those associated to Lignin, a complex organic polymer used by plants to provide physical support in its tissues. Through litter inputs Lignin is deposited in soils and then is transported to sedimentary environments by rivers (e.g. floodplains, lake bottoms), serving as a source of information about vegetation changes in watersheds. In spite of the critical character of the information extracted from biomarkers in sedimentary records, the very concept of information is still used in a metaphorical sense, even though it was formally defined more than 60 years ago and has been applied extensively in ecology (e.g. Shannon's diversity index). Furthermore, sophisticated techniques are being used to deliver more complex molecular data that require examination and validation as indicators for watershed historical reconstructions. My research aims to explore the applicability of some information metrics (i.e. diversity indices, information coefficients) to a diverse molecular set derived from the chemical depolymerization of lignin deposited in floodplains and lake sediments in different basins. This approach attempts to assess the informational characteristics of Lignin as an indicator of natural/human-induced perturbations in forested watersheds. The formal assessment of the informational characteristics of natural records could have a profound impact not only in our methodological approaches but also in our philosophical view about information and communication in natural environments.