Although the watershed approach has long been used to study whole-ecosystem function, it has seldom been applied to study human-dominated systems, especially those dominated by urban and suburban land uses. Here we present 3 years of data on nitrogen (N) losses from one completely forested, one agricultural, and six urban/suburban watersheds, and input-output N budgets for suburban, forested, and agricultural watersheds. The work is a product of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, a long-term study of urban and suburban ecosystems, and a component of the US National Science Foundation's long-term ecological research (LTER) network. As expected, urban and suburban watersheds had much higher N losses than did the completely forested watershed, with N yields ranging from 2.9 to 7.9 kg N ha-1 y-1 in the urban and suburban watersheds compared with less than 1 kg N ha-1 y -1 in the completely forested watershed. Yields from urban and suburban watersheds were lower than those from an agricultural watershed (13-19.8 kg N ha-1 y-1). Retention of N in the suburban watershed was surprisingly high, 75% of inputs, which were dominated by home lawn fertilizer (14.4 kg N ha-1 y-1) and atmospheric deposition (11.2 kg N ha-1 y-1). Detailed analysis of mechanisms of N retention, which must occur in the significant amounts of pervious surface present in urban and suburban watersheds, and which include storage in soils and vegetation and gaseous loss, is clearly warranted.
Additional publication details
Nitrogen fluxes and retention in urban watershed ecosystems