, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 144-155

First online:

Wetlands as Sinks for Reactive Nitrogen at Continental and Global Scales: A Meta-Analysis

  • Stephen J. JordanAffiliated withGulf Ecology Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Email author 
  • , Jonathan StofferAffiliated withDepartment of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University
  • , Janet A. NestlerodeAffiliated withGulf Ecology Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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Wetlands support physical and ecological functions that result in valuable services to society, including removal of reactive nitrogen (Nr) from surface water and groundwater. We compiled published data from wetland studies worldwide to estimate total Nr removal and to evaluate factors that influence removal rates. Over several orders of magnitude in wetland area and Nr loading rates, there is a positive, near-linear relationship between Nr removal and Nr loading. The linear model (null hypothesis) explains the data better than either a model of declining Nr removal efficiency with increasing Nr loading, or a Michaelis–Menten (saturation) model. We estimate that total Nr removal by major classes of wetlands in the contiguous U.S. is approximately 20–21% of the total anthropogenic load of Nr to the region. Worldwide, Nr removal by wetlands is roughly 17% of anthropogenic Nr inputs. Historical loss of 50% of native wetland area suggests an equivalent loss of Nr removal capacity. Expanded protection and large-scale restoration of wetlands should be considered in strategies to re-balance the global nitrogen cycle and mitigate the negative consequences of excess Nr loading.

Key words

nitrogen reactive nitrogen wetlands denitrification nitrogen removal nitrogen loading