, Volume 62, Issue 1, pp 87-117

Biogeochemistry of unpolluted forested watersheds in the Oregon Cascades: temporal patterns of precipitation and stream nitrogen fluxes

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Abstract

We analyzed long-term organic and inorganic nitrogen inputs and outputs in precipitation and streamwater in six watersheds at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the central Cascade Mountains of Oregon. Total bulk N deposition, averaging 1.6 to 2.0 kg N ha−1 yr−1, is low compared to other sites in the United States and little influenced by anthropogenic N sources. Streamwater N export is also low, averaging <1 kg ha−1 yr−1. DON is the predominant form of N exported from all watersheds, followed by PON, NH4-N, and NO3-N. Total annual stream discharge was a positive predictor of annual DON output in all six watersheds, suggesting that DON export is related to regional precipitation. In contrast, annual discharge was a positive predictor of annual NO3-N output in one watershed, annual NH4-N output in three watersheds, and annual PON output in three watersheds. Of the four forms of N, only DON had consistent seasonal concentration patterns in all watersheds. Peak streamwater DON concentrations occurred in November-December after the onset of fall rains but before the peak in the hydrograph, probably due to flushing of products of decomposition that had built up during the dry summer. Multiple biotic controls on the more labile nitrate and ammonium concentrations in streams may obscure temporal DIN flux patterns from the terrestrial environment. Results from this study underscore the value of using several watersheds from a single climatic zone to make inferences about controls on stream N chemistry; analysis of a single watershed may preclude identification of geographically extensive mechanisms controlling N dynamics.