Ecosystem Ecology


, Volume 139, Issue 1, pp 108-116

Patterns of nitrogen accumulation and cycling in riparian floodplain ecosystems along the Green and Yampa rivers

  • E. Carol AdairAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Sciences, Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State University Email author 
  • , Dan BinkleyAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Sciences, Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State University
  • , Douglas C. AndersenAffiliated withFort Collins Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey

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Patterns of nitrogen (N) accumulation and turnover in riparian systems in semi-arid regions are poorly understood, particularly in those ecosystems that lack substantial inputs from nitrogen fixing vegetation. We investigated sources and fluxes of N in chronosequences of riparian forests along the regulated Green River and the free-flowing Yampa River in semi-arid northwestern Colorado. Both rivers lack significant inputs from N-fixing vegetation. Total soil nitrogen increased through time along both rivers, at a rate of about 7.8 g N m−2 year−1 for years 10–70, and 2.7 g N m−2year−1 from years 70–170. We found that the concentration of N in freshly deposited sediments could account for most of the soil N that accumulated in these floodplain soils. Available N (measured by ion exchange resin bags) increased with age along both rivers, more than doubling in 150 years. In contrast to the similar levels of total soil N along these rivers, N turnover rates, annual N mineralization, net nitrification rates, resin-N, and foliar N were all 2–4 times higher along the Green River than the Yampa River. N mineralization and net nitrification rates generally increased through time to steady or slightly declining rates along the Yampa River. Along the Green River, rates of mineralization and nitrification were highest in the youngest age class. The high levels of available N and N turnover in young sites are not characteristic of riparian chronosequences and could be related to changes in hydrology or plant community composition associated with the regulation of the Green River.


Mineralization Nitrification Sediment deposition Northwest Colorado Primary succession