, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp 483-492
Date: 19 Jun 2003

Patterns in the Chemical Fractionation of Organic Nitrogen in Rocky Mountain Streams

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Abstract

The intraannual dynamics of particulate organic nitrogen (PON) and two fractions of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) were investigated in two Rocky Mountain streams draining watersheds with low rates of N deposition. Organic nitrogen accounted for over 60% of the total annual nitrogen export and consisted mostly of DON. Nitrate peaked during winter months and declined considerably during the growing season (less than 10 µg/L) suggesting the importance of biotic uptake. Concentrations of PON, total DON, and two DON fractions (humic and non-humic) peaked during spring runoff and were positively related to discharge, indicating hydrologic influence. Total DON and its two fractions showed significant inverse relationships to nitrate, indicating that DON and nitrate followed different intraannual patterns. Despite its seasonal fluctuations in concentration, PON showed a consistent carbon–nitrogen (C:N) ratio suggesting that it was relatively uniform in composition. Fractionation studies indicated that DON was primarily of non-humic origin, whereas dissolved organic carbon (DOC) was mainly derived from humic sources. The two DON fractions differed from each other in seasonal patterns of concentration and C:N ratio. The proportion of humic DON increased during snowmelt, and there were diverging seasonal patterns in the C:N ratio of the two fractions implying variations in bioavailability. Although organic nitrogen is commonly treated as a single pool in ecological studies, our results indicated that DON consists of fractions that undergo large intraannual changes in proportions and chemical composition. Treatment of DON as a single pool may be misleading from the viewpoint of understanding ecosystem processes directly related to changes in its sources and biological reactivity.