Denitrification in riparian soils is thought to be an important factor that reduces hydrologic export of nitrate from forested and agricultural catchments. A 2-y study to identify the soil factors most closely associated with denitrification in riparian soils in headwater catchments within the Catskill Mountains of New York, included field surveys of surface and subsurface denitrification rates, and an amendment experiment to assess the relative effects of increases in available carbon and substrate NO-/3 on denitrification rates. Denitrification rates were measured by acetylene inhibition during incubation of intact soil cores from eight soil types representing a range of drainage classes. Soil cores were analyzed for organic matter, total P, extractable NO-/3-N and NH+/4-N, organic N, pH, moisture, porosity, and water-filled pore space, to determine which of these factors were most closely associated with denitrification. The distribution of denitrification rates found during the field surveys was highly skewed, with many low or zero values and few high values. Denitrification rates were positively associated with high soil organic matter, total P, and water-filled pore space, and were highest in seep (poorly-drained) soils, toeslope (seasonally-drained) soils, and stream-edge (poorly- to moderately well-drained) soils in which these three soil characteristics were typically high. Denitrification rates in these wet locations were also positively associated with soil NH+/4-N concentration and pH, but not with NO-/3-N concentration, suggesting that the rate of NO-/3 supply (via nitrification or hydrologic transport) was more important than the instantaneous concentration of NO-/3-N in the soils. The amendment experiment indicated that denitrification in soil types studied was most responsive to added glucose alone or with NO-/3. Thus, in these soils, a combination of slow rates of NO-/3 supply and low available carbon appears to limit denitrification. Annual denitrification rates in spring-fed soils (0.74 to 1.43 kg N ha-1 y-1) were up to 5 times greater than in other surface soils, yet these soils accounted for only 1.8% of the catchment's N loss through denitrification because they represent less than 3% of the catchment area. Dry upland soils constituted 71% of the catchment area and accounted for 91% of the catchment's N loss through denitrification. Annual denitrification in the catchment equaled about 65% of stream NO-/3-N and NH+/4-N export and 14% of precipitation NO-/3-N and NH+/4-N inputs. Denitrification appears to be important relative to N input and export in these Catskill catchments.
Additional publication details
Controls on denitrification in riparian soils in headwater catchments of a hardwood forest in the Catskill Mountains, U.S.A.