Seasonal flooding, nitrogen mineralization and nitrogen utilization in a prairie marsh
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- Neill, C. Biogeochemistry (1995) 30: 171. doi:10.1007/BF02186412
Flooding can be an important control of nitrogen (N) biogeochemistry in wetland ecosystems. In North American prairie marshes, spring flooding is a dominant feature of the physical environment that increases emergent plant production and could influence N cycling. I investigated how spring flooding affects N availability and plant N utilization in whitetop (Scolochloa festucacea) marshes in Manitoba, Canada by comparing experimentally spring-flooded marsh inside an impoundment with adjacent nonflooded marsh. The spring-flooded marsh had net N mineralization rates up to 4 times greater than nonflooded marsh. Total growing season net N mineralization was 124 kg N ha−1 in the spring-flooded marsh compared with 62 kg N ha−1 in the nonflooded marsh. Summer water level drawdown in the spring-flooded marsh decreased net N mineralization rates. Net nitrification rates increased in the nonflooded marsh following a lowering of the water table during mid summer. Growing season net nitrification was 33 kg N ha−1 in the nonflooded marsh but < 1 kg N ha−1 in the spring-flooded marsh. Added NO3−1 induced nitrate reductase (NRA) activity in whitetop grown in pot culture. Field-collected plants showed higher NRA in the nonflooded marsh. Nitrate comprised 40% of total plant N uptake in the nonflooded marsh but <1% of total N uptake in the spring-flooded marsh. Higher plant N demand caused by higher whitetop production in the spring-flooded marsh approximately balanced greater net N mineralization. A close association between the presence of spring flooding and net N mineralization and net nitrification rates indicated that modifications to prairie marshes that change the pattern of spring inundation will lead to rapid and significant changes in marsh N cycling patterns.