Declines in soil-water nitrate in nitrogen-saturated watersheds

Pamela J. Edwards, Karl W.J. Williard

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1 Scopus citations


Two forested watersheds (WS3 and WS9) in the central Appalachians were artificially acidified with ammonium sulfate fertilizer. WS9 was treated for 8 years, whereas WS3 has been treated for approximately 15 years. Soil leachate was collected from a depth of 46 cm (B horizon) in WS9 and below the A, B, and C horizons in WS3. Nitrate concentrations from WS3 increased for approximately 10-12 years (depending upon horizon) and then did not increase from 2000 through 2003 despite continued fertilizer treatments. Nitrate concentrations in WS9 soil water increased for the first 3 years of fertilization, and then declined for another 2 years. After that time, the concentrations remained relatively constant at approximately 15 μequiv.·L-1; this period of low nitrate concentrations included 2.3 years of fertilization followed by 8.2 years of no fertilization. Stream-water nitrate concentrations from both watersheds indicate they were in stage 2 of nitrogen saturation; however, the soil-water nitrate behavior observed within the setting of continued elevated nitrogen inputs is at odds with responses predicted in current nitrogen saturation theory. We believe that the cessation of nitrate increases in at least the B and C horizons were due primarily to abiotic retention, with recalcitrant forms of dissolved organic carbon providing the carbon needed to induce retention. These results show that nitrogen cycling in forest soil ecosystems is more complex than current nitrogen saturation theory suggests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1931-1942
Number of pages12
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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