, Volume 6, Issue 8, pp 773–785 | Cite as

Nitrogen Export from Forested Watersheds in the Oregon Coast Range: The Role of N2-fixing Red Alder

  • Jana E. Compton
  • M. Robbins Church
  • Scott T. Larned
  • William E. Hogsett


Variations in plant community composition across the landscape can influence nutrient retention and loss at the watershed scale. A striking example of plant species importance is the influence of N2-fixing red alder (Alnus rubra) on nutrient cycling in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. To understand the influence of red alder on watershed nutrient export, we studied the chemistry of 26 small watershed streams within the Salmon River basin of the Oregon Coast Range. Nitrate and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) concentrations were positively related to broadleaf cover (dominated by red alder: 94% of basal area), particularly when near-coastal sites were excluded (r 2 = 0.65 and 0.68 for nitrate-N and DON, respectively). Nitrate and DON concentrations were more strongly related to broadleaf cover within entire watersheds than broadleaf cover within the riparian area alone, which indicates that leaching from upland alder stands plays an important role in watershed nitrogen (N) export. Nitrate dominated over DON in hydrologic export (92% of total dissolved N), and nitrate and DON concentrations were strongly correlated. Annual N export was highly variable among watersheds (2.4–30.8 kg N ha−1 y−1), described by a multiple linear regression combining broadleaf and mixed broadleaf–conifer cover (r 2 = 0.74). Base cation concentrations were positively related to nitrate concentrations, which suggests that nitrate leaching increases cation losses. Our findings provide evidence for strong control of ecosystem function by a single plant species, where leaching from N saturated red alder stands is a major control on N export from these coastal watersheds.


nitogen leaching nitrogen fixation red alder nitrate streams Oregon Coast Range nitrogen saturation dissolved organic nitrogen cation leaching 



We thank Kathy Motter and the Willamette Research Station staff for water sample analysis, and Marjorie Storm and Joel Zumbolo for assistance with field sampling. We also thank Patti Haggerty and Gary Bishop for invaluable assistance with the GIS data, and Janet Ohmann and Matt Gregory for using their model to provide the CLAMS vegetation data by species. Sarah Greene of the Pacific Northwest Research Station provided field site access within Cascade Head Experimental Forest. Steven Perakis, Dan Binkley, and Phil Kaufmann gave us valuable comments on this manuscript. This work was funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and approved for publication after EPA review. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the agency, and the mention of trade names or commercial products does not imply endorsement.


  1. 1.
    Aber, J, McDowell, W, Nadelhoffer, K, Magill, A, Berntsen, G, Kamakea, M, McNulty, S, Currie, W, Rustad, L, Fernandez, I 1998Nitrogen saturation in temperate forest ecosystems: hypotheses revisited.BioScience4892134Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Aber, JD, Nadelhoffer, KJ, Steudler, P, Melillo, JM 1989Nitrogen saturation in northern forest ecosystems.BioScience3937886Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bernhard, AE, Peele, ER 1997Nitrogen limitation of phytoplankton in a shallow embayment in northern Puget Sound.Estuaries2075969Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bilby, RE, Fransen, BR, Bisson, PA 1996Incorporation of nitrogen and carbon from spawning coho salmon into the trophic system of small streams: evidence from stable isotopes.Can J Fish Aqua Sci5316473Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Binkley, D, Cromack, K, Baker Jr, D 1994Nitrogen fixation by red alder: biology, rates, and controls.Hibbs, DEDeBell, DSTarrant, RF eds. The biology and management of red alder.Oregon State University PressCorvallis (OR)5772Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Binkley, D, Giardina, C 1998Why do tree species affect soils? The warp and woof of tree–soil interactions.Biogeochemistry4289106Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Binkley, D, Kimmins, JP, Feller, MC 1982Water chemistry profiles in an early successional and a mid successional forest in coastal British Columbia, Canada.Can J For Res122408Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Binkley, D, Sollins, P, Bell, R, Sachs, D, Myrold, D 1992Biogeochemistry of adjacent conifer and alder–conifer stands.Ecology73202233Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Blew, RD, Edmonds, RL 1995Precipitation chemistry along an inland transect on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.J Environ Qual2423945Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Boring, LR, Swank, WT, Waide, JB, Henderson, GS 1988Sources, fates and impacts of nitrogen inputs to terrestrial ecosystems: review and synthesis.Biogeochemistry611959Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Bormann, BT, Cromack Jr, K, Russell III, WO 1994The influences of red alder on soils and long-term ecosystem productivity.Hibbs, DEDeBell, DSTarrant, RF eds. The biology and management of red alder.Oregon State University PressCorvallis (OR)4756Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Brown, GW, Gahler, AR, Marston, RB 1973Nutrient losses after clear-cut logging and slash burning the Oregon Coast Range.Water Resources Res914503Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Brozek, S 1990Effect of soil changes caused by red alder (Alnus rubra) on biomass and nutrient status of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) seedlings.Can J For Res2013205Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cabrera, ML, Beare, MH 1993Alkaline persulfate oxidation for determining total nitrogen in microbial biomass extracts.Soil Sci Soc Am J57100712Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Carlton G. 1988. The structure and dynamics of red alder communities in the central Coast Range of western Oregon.: Oregon State University. Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Cloern, JE 2001Our evolving conceptual model of the coastal eutrophication problem.Mar Ecol Prog Ser21022353Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Cole, DW, Rapp, M 1981Elemental cycling in forest ecosystems.Reichle, DE eds. Dynamic properties of forest ecosystems. IBP synthesis.Cambridge University PressCambridge (UK)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Cole, DW, Compton, JE, Van Miegroet, H, Homann, PS, Edmonds, RL (1995) “Comparison of carbon accumulation in douglas-fir and reclalcter forests”. In: Mckee, WW, Kelly, JM (Eds.) Carbon forms and functions in forest soils. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI (USA), pp 527–546 Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Compton, JE, Cole, DW 1998Phosphorus cycling and soil P fractions in Douglas-fir and red alder stands.For Ecol Manage11010112Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Compton, JE, Homann, PS, Cole, DW 1997Leaf element concentrations and soil properties in successive rotations of red alder (Alnus rubra).Can J For Res276626Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Cromack Jr, L, Miller, RE, Helgerson, OT, Smith, RB, Anderson, HW 1999Soil carbon and nutrients in a coastal Oregon Douglas-fir plantation with red alder.Soil Sci Soc Am J632329Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Currie, WS, Aber, JD, McDowell, WH, Boone, RD, Magill, AH 1996Vertical transport of dissolved organic C and N under long-term N amendments in pine and hardwood forests.Biogeochemistry35471505Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Davis, MD 1973Pollen evidence of changing land use around the shores of Lake Washington.Northwest Sci4713348Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Edmonds, RL, Thomas, TB, Blew, RD 1995Biogeochemistry of an old-growth forested watershed, Olympic National Park, Washington.Water Resources Res3140918Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Finney, BP, Gregory-Eaves, I, Sweetman, J, Douglas, MSV, Smol, JP 2000Impacts of climatic change and fishing on Pacific salmon abundance over the past 300 years.Science2907959Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Franklin, JF, Dyrness, CT 1988Natural vegetation of Oregon and Washington.Oregon State University PressCorvallis (OR)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Goldman, CR 1961The contribution of alder trees (Alnus tenuifolia) to the primary production of Castle Lake, California.Ecology422828Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Goodale, CL, Aber, JD, McDowell, WH 1961The long-term effects of disturbance on organic and inorganic nitrogen export in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.Ecosystems343350Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Greene, SE, Harcombe, PA, Harmon, ME, Spycher, G 1992Patterns of growth, mortality and biomass change in a coastal Picea sitchensis–Tsuga heterophylla forest.J Veget Sci3697706Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Gundersen, P, Bashkin, VN 1994Nitrogen cycling.Moldan, BCerny, J eds. Biogeochemistry of small catchments: a tool for environmental research.WileyChichester (UK)25583Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Harrington, CA, Zasada, JC, Allen, EA 1994Biology of red alder (Alnus rubra Bong.).Hibbs, DEDeBell, DSTarrant, RF eds. The biology and management of red alder.Oregon State University Press.Corvallis (OR)322Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Hedin, LO, Armesto, JJ, Johnson, AH 1995Patterns of nutrient loss from unpolluted, old-growth temperate forests: evaluation of biogeochemical theory.Ecology76493509Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Helfield, JM, Naiman, RJ 2001Effects of salmon-derived nitrogen on riparian forest growth and implications for stream productivity.Ecology8224039Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Heusser, CJ 1964Palynology of four bog sections from the western Olympic Peninsula, Washington.Ecology452340Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Hill, AH 1996Nitrate removal in stream riparian zones.J Environ Qual2574355Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Hill, WR, Knight, AW 1988Nutrient and light limitation of algae in two northern California streams.J Phycol2412532Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Hobbie, SE 1992Effects of plant species on nutrient cycling.Trends Ecol Evol73369Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Homann, PS, Van Miegroet, H, Cole, DW, Wolfe, GV 1992Cation distribution, cycling, and removal from mineral soil in Douglas-fir and red alder forests.Biogeochemistry1612150Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Hornbeck, JW, Bailey, SW, Buso, DC, Shanley, JB 1997Streamwater chemistry and nutrient budgets for forested watersheds in New England: variability and management applications.For Ecol Manag937389Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Hu, FS, Finney, B, Brubaker, LB 2001Effects of Holocene Alnus expansion on aquatic productivity, nitrogen cycling, and soil development in southwestern Alaska.Ecosystems435868Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Johnston, NT, Perrin, CJ, Slaney, PA, Ward, BR 1990Increased juvenile salmonid growth by whole-river fertilization.Can J Fish Aquat Sci4786272Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Larned ST. Nitrate and phosphate uptake lengths and short-term retention in Oregon Coast Range stream reaches with contrasting lithologies and channel substrates. Forthcoming. Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Likens, G, Driscoll, C, Buso, D 1996Long-term effects of acid rain: response and recovery of a forest ecosystem.Science2722446Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Long, CJ, Whitlock, C, Bartlein, PJ, Millspaugh, SH 1998A 9000-year fire history from the Oregon Coast Range, based on a high-resolution charcoal study.Can J For Res2877487Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Lovett, GM, Weathers, KC, Sobczak, WV 2000Nitrogen saturation and retention in forested watersheds of the Catskill Mountains, New York.Ecol Appl107384Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    McDowell, WH, Currie, WS, Aber, JD, Yano, Y 1998Effects of chronic nitrogen amendment on production of dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen in forest soils.Water AirSoil Pollut10517582Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Maguire, D, Waring, R, Cromack, K, Boyle, J (2000) “Trends in soil and foliar nutrients across a range in swiss needle cast severity.” In: Annual Report to the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative,Oregon State University, covallis, OR (USA), pp 79–84Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Miller, OH, Newton, A (2000) “Watersheds in Oregon’s Coast Range.” Agroecosystems 8: 153–164Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Murdoch, PS, Stoddard, JL 1992The role of nitrate in the acidification of streams in the Catskill Mountains of New York.Water Resources Res28270720Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Naiman, RJ, Bilby, RE, Bisson, PA 2000Riparian ecology and management in the Pacific coastal rain forest.BioScience509961011Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Ohmann, JL, Gregory, MJ 2002Predictive mapping of forest composition and structure with direct gradient analysis and nearest neighbor imputation in Coastal Oregon, USA.Can J For Resources3272541Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Ohrui, K, Mitchell, MJ 1997Nitrogen saturation in Japanese forested watersheds.Ecol Appl7391401Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Perakis, SS, Hedin, LO 2002Nitrogen losses from temperate South American forests mainly as dissolved organic forms.Nature4154169Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Peterjohn, WT, Correll, DL 1984Nutrient dynamics in an agricultural watershed: observations on the role of a riparian forest.Ecology65146675Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Remillard SM. 2000. Soil carbon and nitrogen in old-growth forests in western Oregon and Washington [thesis]. Oregon State University.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Silsbee, DG, Larson, GL 1982Water quality of streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.Hydrobiologia8997115Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Sollins, P, Grier, CC, McCorison, FM, Cromack, KJ, Fogel, R, Fredriksen, RL 1980The internal element cycles of an old-growth Douglas-fir ecosystem in western Oregon.Ecol Monogr5026185Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Stark, JM, Hart, SC 1997High rates of nitrification and nitrate turnover in undisturbed coniferous forests.Nature385614Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Stednick JD, Kern TJ. 1992. Long term effects of timber harvesting in the Oregon Coast Range: the New Alsea Watershed Study (NAWS). In: Jones ME, Laenen A, editors. Interdisciplinary approaches in hydrology and hydrogeology. American Institute of Hydrology. p 502–10. Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    “the circle”. In: Stockner, JG (Ed.) Nutrients in salmonid ecosystems: Sustaining production and biodiversity. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 34, Bethesda, MD (USA) pp 3–15 Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Stoddard, JL 1994Long-term changes in watershed retention of nitrogen: its causes and aquatic consequences.Baker, LA eds. Environmental chemistry of lakes and reservoirs. Adv. Chem. Ser. No.American Chemical SocietyWashington (DC)22384Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Stottlemyer, R, Toczydlowski, D 1999Seasonal relationships between precipitation, forest floor, and streamwater nitrogen, Isle Royale, Michigan.Soil Sci Soc Am J6338998Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Triska, FJ, Kennedy, VC, Avanzino, RJ, Zellweger, GW, Bencala, KE 1989Retention and transport of nutrients in a third-order stream: channel processes.Ecology70187792Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    USDA. 1997. Soil survey of Lincoln County area, Oregon. Washington (DC): US Department of Agriculture, National Resources Conservation Service. Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    USEPA1987Handbook of methods for acid deposition studies: laboratory analyses for surface water chemistry.US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and DevelopmentWashington, (DC)Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Van Miegroet, H, Cole, DW 1985Acidification sources in red alder and Douglas fir soils—importance of nitrification.Soil Sci Soc Am J4912749Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Van Miegroet, H, Cole, DW 1984Impact of nitrification on soil acidification and cation leaching in a red alder ecosystem.J Environ Qua1358690Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Van Miegroet, H, Cole, DW, Foster, NW 1992Nitrogen distribution and cycling.Johnson, DWLindberg, SE eds. Atmospheric deposition and forest nutrient cycling: a synthesis of the Integrated Forest Study.Springer-VerlagNew York17896Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Vitousek, PM, Aber, JD, Howarth, RW, Likens, GE, Matson, PA, Schindler, DW, Schlesinger, WH, Tilman, DG 1997Human alteration of the global nitrogen cycle: sources and consequences.Ecol Appl773750Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Volk CJ, Kiffney PM, Edmonds RE (2003) “Role of riparian alder in the nutrient dynamics of coastal streams of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, U.S.A.” In: Stockner, JG (Ed.) Nutrients in salmonid ecosystems: Sustainnig production and biodiversity. American Fisheries society, symposium 34, Bethesda, MD (USA) pp 213–225Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    Waring, RH, Franklin, JF 1979Evergreen coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest.Science20413806Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Welch, EB, Jacoby, JM, May, CW 1998Stream quality.Naiman, RJBilby, RE eds. River ecology and management: lessons from the Pacific Coastal Ecoregion.Springer-VerlagNew York6994Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    Wigington, PJ, Church, MR, Strickland, TC, Eshleman, KN, Van Sickle, J 1998Autumn chemistry of Oregon Coast Range streams.J Am Water Resources Assoc34103549Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Wondzell, SM, Swanson, FJ 1996Seasonal and storm dynamics of the hyporheic zone of a 4th-order mountain stream. II. Nitrogen cycling.J North Am Benthol Soc152034Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Wright, RF, Rasmussen, L 1998Introduction to the NITREX and EXMAN projects.For Ecol Managemen10117Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jana E. Compton
    • 1
  • M. Robbins Church
    • 1
  • Scott T. Larned
    • 2
  • William E. Hogsett
    • 1
  1. 1.US Environmental Protection AgencyNational Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Western Ecology Division, 200 SW 35th Street, Corvallis, Oregon 97333USA
  2. 2.River Ecosystems GroupNational Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 8602, ChristchurchNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations