Comparisons of nitrification and denitrification in prairie and agriculturally influenced streams

TitleComparisons of nitrification and denitrification in prairie and agriculturally influenced streams
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsKemp, MJ, Dodds, WK
JournalEcological Applications
Pagination998 -1009
Accession NumberKNZ0012
Keywordsnitrification, prairie, stream

Whole-stream nitrification and denitrification rates were calculated from field incubation studies of representative substrata in Kings Creek and Shane Creek watersheds at the Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, USA. Substrata from a relatively pristine upstream and an agriculturally influenced downstream reach were measured in both watersheds. Rates were scaled to the whole stream by the mass of each substratum in the stream reach. Substrata sampled included epilithon, leaf packs and wood (coarse benthic organic matter, CBOM), filamentous green algae, bryophytes, fine benthic organic matter (FBOM), and suspended particulate organic matter. Upstream sites had significantly lower nitrification and denitrification rates than downstream sites. Nitrification rates were dominated by nitrification associated with epilithon and filamentous green algae. Downstream sites had a higher proportion of nitrification occurring in the water column relative to upstream sites. Whole-stream denitrification was dominated by denitrification associated with FBOM and CBOM and was higher downstream. Water column ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3−) concentrations were correlated with whole-stream nitrification rates but not whole-stream denitrification rates. Whole-stream nitrification rates were positively correlated with whole-stream denitrification rates, being coupled at the whole-stream level, but not at the substratum level. Relative to the amount of NO3− produced through nitrification, the proportion of NO3− denitrified was 1.4–4.6 times greater in the downstream sites compared to the upstream sites, but the proportion of the in-stream NO3− load denitrified was ∼10 times greater in the upstream sites. These data indicate that changes in stream nitrogen cycling related to increased dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentrations do not result in a large enough increase in denitrification (the stream's capacity to retain nitrogen) to compensate for the increased nitrogen loading. Data also suggest that whole-stream nitrification and denitrification may be decoupled at the reach level by factors that decrease habitat heterogeneity (the variety of substrata types) in stream channels. This indicates that anthropogenic disturbances of small streams, such as channelization and removal of riparian vegetation, would be expected to decrease the capacity of streams to retain nitrogen.