We sampled 100 unpolluted, old-growth forested watersheds, divided among 13 separate study areas over 5 years in temperate southern Chile and Argentina, to evaluate relationships among dominant soil-forming state factors and dissolved carbon and nitrogen concentrations in watershed streams. These watersheds provide a unique opportunity to examine broad-scale controls over carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) biogeochemistry in the absence of significant human disturbance from chronic N deposition and land use change. Variations in the ratio dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to nitrogen (DON) in watershed streams differed by underlying soil parent material, with average C:N = 29 for watersheds underlain by volcanic ash and basalt versus C:N = 73 for sedimentary and metamorphic parent materials, consistent with stronger adsorption of low C:N hydrophobic materials by amorphous clays commonly associated with volcanic ash and basalt weathering. Mean annual precipitation was related positively to variations in both DOC (range: 0.2-9.7 mg C/L) and DON (range: 0.008-0.135 mg N/L) across study areas, suggesting that variations in water volume and concentration may act synergistically to influence C and N losses across dry to wet gradients in these forest ecosystems. Dominance of vegetation by broadleaf versus coniferous trees had negligible effects on organic C and N concentrations in comparison to abiotic factors. We conclude that precipitation volume and soil parent material are important controls over chemical losses of dissolved organic C and N from unpolluted temperate forest watersheds. Our results raise the possibility that biotic imprints on watershed C and N losses may be less pronounced in naturally N-poor forests than in areas impacted by land use change and chronic N deposition. Copyright 2007 by the American Geophysical Union.
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State factor relationships of dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen losses from unpolluted temperate forest watersheds