, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 393–403 | Cite as

Nitrogen Fluxes and Retention in Urban Watershed Ecosystems

  • Peter M. GroffmanEmail author
  • Neely L. Law
  • Kenneth T. Belt
  • Lawrence E. Band
  • Gary T. Fisher
Original Article


Although the watershed approach has long been used to study whole-ecosystem function, it has seldom been applied to study human-dominated systems, especially those dominated by urban and suburban land uses. Here we present 3 years of data on nitrogen (N) losses from one completely forested, one agricultural, and six urban/suburban watersheds, and input–output N budgets for suburban, forested, and agricultural watersheds. The work is a product of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, a long-term study of urban and suburban ecosystems, and a component of the US National Science Foundation’s long-term ecological research (LTER) network. As expected, urban and suburban watersheds had much higher N losses than did the completely forested watershed, with N yields ranging from 2.9 to 7.9 kg N ha−1 y−1 in the urban and suburban watersheds compared with less than 1 kg N ha−1 y−1 in the completely forested watershed. Yields from urban and suburban watersheds were lower than those from an agricultural watershed (13–19.8 kg N ha−1 y−1). Retention of N in the suburban watershed was surprisingly high, 75% of inputs, which were dominated by home lawn fertilizer (14.4 kg N ha−1 y−1) and atmospheric deposition (11.2 kg N ha−1 y−1). Detailed analysis of mechanisms of N retention, which must occur in the significant amounts of pervious surface present in urban and suburban watersheds, and which include storage in soils and vegetation and gaseous loss, is clearly warranted.


nitrogen nitrate watershed urban mass balance long-term ecological research 



This research was supported by the National Science Foundation LTER program (grant DEB-9714835) and the EPA-NSF joint program in Water and Watersheds (Project GAD-R825792). We thank the USDA Forest Service Northeastern Research Station for site management and in-kind services and the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Management and the USGS Cooperative Water Program for partial support of stream gauging stations. In addition, the City of Baltimore Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of Public Works, the Baltimore County Department of Parks, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources all kindly provided access or management of land for our ecological, hydrologic, and meteorologic field studies. The authors thank Alysia Koufus Perry, Jessica Hopkins, Alex Kalejs, Emilie Stander, Nathan Forand, Alan Lorefice, Evan Grant, and Amanda Thimmayya for help with field sampling and laboratory and data analysis and Edward Doheny (USGS) for his work with the stream gauges and tireless attention to our constant requests for prepublication flow data.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter M. Groffman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Neely L. Law
    • 2
  • Kenneth T. Belt
    • 3
  • Lawrence E. Band
    • 2
  • Gary T. Fisher
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, New York 12545USA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599USA
  3. 3.Urban Forestry Ecological Research UnitNE/USDA Forest Service, University of Maryland at Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland 21227USA
  4. 4.US Geological Survey, Baltimore, Maryland 21237USA

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