The aim of the present study is to analyze relationships between land uses and anthropogenic pressures, and nutrient loadings in the Po river basin, the largest hydrographic system in Italy, together with the changes they have undergone in the last half century. Four main points are addressed: 1) spatial distribution and time evolution of land uses and associated N and P budgets; 2) long-term trajectories of the reactive N and P loadings exported from the Po river; 3) relationships between budgets and loadings; 4) brief review of relationships between N and P loadings and eutrophication in the Northern Adriatic Sea. Net Anthropogenic N (NANI) and P (NAPI) inputs, and N and P surpluses in the cropland between 1960 and 2010 were calculated. The annual loadings of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) exported by the river were calculated for the whole 1968–2016 period. N and P loadings increased from the 1960s to the 1980s, as NAPI and NANI and N and P surpluses increased. Thereafter SRP declined, while DIN remained steadily high, resulting in a notable increase of the N:P molar ratio from 47 to 100. In the same period, the Po river watershed underwent a trajectory from net autotrophy to net heterotrophy, which reflected its specialization toward livestock farming. This study also demonstrates that in a relatively short time, i.e. almost one decade, N and P sources were relocated within the watershed, due to discordant environmental policies and mismanagement on the local scale, with frequent episodes of heavy pollution. This poses key questions about the spatial scale on which problems have to be dealt with in order to harmonize policies, set sustainable management goals, restore river basins and, ultimately, protect the adjacent coastal seas from eutrophication.
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