Relatively high deposition of nitrogen (N) in the northeastern United States has caused concern because sites could become N saturated. In the past, mass-balance studies have been used to monitor the N status of sites and to investigate the impact of increased N deposition. Typically, these efforts have focused on dissolved inorganic forms of N (DIN = NH4-N + NO3-N) and have largely ignored dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) due to difficulties in its analysis. Recent advances in the measurement of total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) have facilitated measurement of DON as the residual of TDN - DIN. We calculated DON and DIN budgets using data on precipitation and streamwater chemistry collected from 9 forested watersheds at 4 sites in New England. TDN in precipitation was composed primarily of DIN. Net retention of TDN ranged from 62 to 89% (4.7 to 10 kg ha-1 yr-1) of annual inputs. DON made up the majority of TDN in stream exports, suggesting that inclusion of DON is critical to assessing N dynamics even in areas with large anthropogenic inputs of DIN. Despite the dominance of DON in streamwater, precipitation inputs of DON were approximately equal to outputs. DON concentrations in streamwater did not appear significantly influenced by seasonal biological controls, but did increase with discharge on some watersheds. Streamwater NO3-N was the only fraction of N that exhibited a seasonal pattern, with concentrations increasing during the winter months and peaking during snowmelt runoff. Concentrations of NO3-N varied considerably among watersheds and are related to DOC:DON ratios in streamwater. Annual DIN exports were negatively correlated with streamwater DOC:DON ratios, indicating that these ratios might be a useful index of N status of upland forests.
Additional publication details
Dissolved organic nitrogen budgets for upland, forested ecosystems in New England