Woody vegetation removal stimulates riparian and benthic denitrification in tallgrass prairie

TitleWoody vegetation removal stimulates riparian and benthic denitrification in tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsReisinger, AJ, Blair, JM, Rice, CW, Dodds, WK
Pagination547 -560
Accession NumberKNZ001522
Keywordsdenitrification, nitrogen removal, prairie streams, riparian vegetation, tallgrass prairie, woody encroachment

Expansion of woody vegetation into areas that were historically grass-dominated is a significant contemporary threat to grasslands, including native tallgrass prairie ecosystems of the Midwestern United States. In tallgrass prairie, much of this woody expansion is concentrated in riparian zones with potential impacts on biogeochemical processes there. Although the effects of woody riparian vegetation on denitrification in both riparian soils and streams have been well studied in naturally wooded ecosystems, less is known about the impacts of woody vegetation encroachment in ecosystems that were historically dominated by herbaceous vegetation. Here, we analyze the effect of afforestation and subsequent woody plant removal on riparian and benthic denitrification. Denitrification rates in riparian soil and selected benthic compartments were measured seasonally in naturally grass-dominated riparian zones, woody encroached riparian zones, and riparian zones with woody vegetation removed in two separate watersheds. Riparian soil denitrification was highly seasonal, with the greatest rates in early spring. Benthic denitrification also exhibited high temporal variability, but no seasonality. Soil denitrification rates were greatest in riparian zones where woody vegetation was removed. Additionally, concentrations of nitrate, carbon, and soil moisture (indicative of potential anoxia) were greatest in wood removal soils. Differences in the presence and abundance of benthic compartments reflected riparian vegetation, and may have indirectly affected denitrification in streams. Riparian soil denitrification increased with soil water content and NO3 −. Management of tallgrass prairies that includes removal of woody vegetation encroaching on riparian areas may alter biogeochemical cycling by increasing nitrogen removed via denitrification while the restored riparian zones return to a natural grass-dominated state.