, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 547–560 | Cite as

Woody Vegetation Removal Stimulates Riparian and Benthic Denitrification in Tallgrass Prairie

  • Alexander J. ReisingerEmail author
  • John M. Blair
  • Charles W. Rice
  • Walter K. Dodds


Expansion of woody vegetation into areas that were historically grass-dominated is a significant contemporary threat to grasslands, including native tallgrass prairie ecosystems of the Midwestern United States. In tallgrass prairie, much of this woody expansion is concentrated in riparian zones with potential impacts on biogeochemical processes there. Although the effects of woody riparian vegetation on denitrification in both riparian soils and streams have been well studied in naturally wooded ecosystems, less is known about the impacts of woody vegetation encroachment in ecosystems that were historically dominated by herbaceous vegetation. Here, we analyze the effect of afforestation and subsequent woody plant removal on riparian and benthic denitrification. Denitrification rates in riparian soil and selected benthic compartments were measured seasonally in naturally grass-dominated riparian zones, woody encroached riparian zones, and riparian zones with woody vegetation removed in two separate watersheds. Riparian soil denitrification was highly seasonal, with the greatest rates in early spring. Benthic denitrification also exhibited high temporal variability, but no seasonality. Soil denitrification rates were greatest in riparian zones where woody vegetation was removed. Additionally, concentrations of nitrate, carbon, and soil moisture (indicative of potential anoxia) were greatest in wood removal soils. Differences in the presence and abundance of benthic compartments reflected riparian vegetation, and may have indirectly affected denitrification in streams. Riparian soil denitrification increased with soil water content and NO3 . Management of tallgrass prairies that includes removal of woody vegetation encroaching on riparian areas may alter biogeochemical cycling by increasing nitrogen removed via denitrification while the restored riparian zones return to a natural grass-dominated state.


woody encroachment denitrification riparian vegetation nitrogen removal prairie streams tallgrass prairie 



We thank M. Arango, J. Taylor, and R. Ramundo for laboratory assistance. Identification of vegetation was performed by B. Vanderweide. We thank the volunteers who assisted with woody vegetation removal. This manuscript was greatly improved by two anonymous reviews. This research was supported by the NSF Long Term Ecological Research Program at Konza Prairie Biological Station, Grant # DEB-0823341 and Kansas State University. This is publication #12-465-J from the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station.


  1. American Public Health Association (APHA). 1998. Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater, 20th ed. American Public Health Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  2. Arango CP, Tank JL. 2008. Land use influences the spatiotemporal controls on nitrification and denitrification in headwater streams. J N Am Benthol Soc 27:90–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arango CP, Tank JL, Schaller JL, Royer TV, Bernot MJ, David MB. 2007. Benthic organic carbon influences denitrification in streams with high nitrate concentration. Freshw Biol 52:1210–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernot MJ, Dodds WK, Gardner WS, McCarthy MJ, Sobolev D, Tank JL. 2003. Comparing denitrification estimates for a Texas estuary by using acetylene inhibition and membrane inlet mass spectrometry. Appl Environ Microbiol 69:5950–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blair JM. 1997. Fire, N availability, and plant response in grasslands: a test of the transient maxima hypothesis. Ecology 78:2359–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brock TD. 1961. Chloramphenicol. Bacteriol Rev 25:32–48.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Briggs JM, Knapp AK, Blair JM, Heisler JL, Hoch GA, Lett MS, McCarron JK. 2005. An ecosystem in transition: causes and consequences of the conversion of mesic grassland to shrubland. Bioscience 55:243–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carpenter SR, Caraco NF, Correll DL, Howarth RW, Sharpley AN, Smith VH. 1998. Nonpoint pollution of surface waters with phosphorous and nitrogen. Ecol Appl 8:559–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Claessens L, Tague CL, Groffman PM, Melack JM. 2010. Longitudinal and seasonal variation of stream N uptake in an urbanizing watershed: effect of organic matter, stream size, transient storage and debris dams. Biogeochemistry 98:45–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cross WF, Benstead JP, Frost PC, Thomas SA. 2005. Ecological stoichiometry in freshwater benthic systems: recent progress and perspectives. Freshw Biol 50:1895–912.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dell CJ, Williams MA, Rice CW. 2005. Partitioning of nitrogen over five growing seasons in tallgrass prairie. Ecology 86:1280–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dillaha TA, Reneau RB, Mostaghimi S, Lee D. 1989. Vegetative filter strips for agricultural nonpoint source pollution control. Trans Am Soc Agric Eng 32:513–19.Google Scholar
  13. Dodds WK. 1997. Distribution of runoff and rivers related to vegetative characteristics, latitude, and slope: a global perspective. J N Am Benthol Soc 16:162–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dodds WK. 2003. Misuse of inorganic N and soluble reactive P concentrations to indicate nutrient status of surface waters. J N Am Benthol Soc 22:171–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dodds WK, Oakes RM. 2006. Controls on nutrients across a prairie stream watershed: land use and riparian cover effects. Environ Manage 37:634–46.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dodds WK, Evans-White MA, Gerlanc NM, Gray L, Gudder DA, Kemp MJ, Lopez AL, Stagliano D, Strauss EA, Tank JL, Whiles MR, Wollheim WM. 2000. Quantification of the nitrogen cycle in a prairie stream. Ecosystems 3:574–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dodds WK, Gido K, Whiles MR, Fritz KM, Matthews WJ. 2004. Life on the edge: the ecology of Great Plains prairie streams. Bioscience 54:205–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dodds WK, Bouska WW, Eitzmann JL, Pilger TJ, Pitts KL, Riley AJ, Schloesser JT, Thornbrugh DJ. 2009. Eutrophication of US Freshwaters: analysis of potential economic damages. Environ Sci Technol 43:12–19.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fornara DA, Tilman D, Hobbie SE. 2009. Linkages between plant functional composition, fine root processes and potential soil N mineralization rates. J Ecol 97:48–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fritz KM, Dodds WK. 1999. The effects of bison crossings on the macroinvertebrate community in a tallgrass prairie stream. Am Midl Nat 141:253–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Groffman PM, Rice CW, Tiedje JM. 1993. Denitrification in a tallgrass prairie landscape. Ecology 74:855–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Groffman PM, Holland E, Myrold DD, Robertson GP, Zou X. 1999. Denitrification. In: Robertson GP, Bledsoe CS, Coleman DC, Sollines P, Eds. Standard soil methods for long term ecological research. New York: Oxford University Press. p 272–88.Google Scholar
  23. Groffman PM, Altabet MA, Böhlke JK, Butterbach-Bahl K, David MB, Firestone MK, Giblin AE, Kana TM, Nielsen LP, Voytek MA. 2006. Methods for measuring denitrification: diverse approaches to a difficult problem. Ecol Appl 16:2091–122.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Haycock NE, Pinay G. 1993. Groundwater nitrate dynamics in grass and poplar vegetated riparian buffer strips during the winter. J Environ Qual 22:273–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Heffernan JB, Cohen MJ. 2010. Direct and indirect coupling of primary production and diel nitrate dynamics in a subtropical spring-fed river. Limnol Oceanogr 55:677–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hill AR. 1996. Nitrate removal in stream riparian zones. J Environ Qual 25:743–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hobbs NT. 1996. Modification of ecosystems by ungulates. J Wildl Manage 60:695–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hobbs NT, Schimel DS, Owensby CE, Ojima DS. 1991. Fire and grazing in the tallgrass prairie: contingent effects on nitrogen budgets. Ecology 72:1374–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Inwood SE, Tank JL, Bernot MJ. 2007. Factors controlling sediment denitrification in Midwestern streams of varying land use. Microb Ecol 53:247–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ishida CK, Arnon S, Peterson CG, Kelly JJ, Gray KA. 2008. Influence of algal community structure on denitrification rates in periphyton cultivated on artificial substrata. Microb Ecol 56:140–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Johnson LC, Matchett JR. 2001. Fire and grazing regulate belowground processes in tallgrass prairie. Ecol 82:3377–89.Google Scholar
  32. Johnson LB, Richards C, Host GE, Arthur JW. 1997. Landscape influences on water chemistry in Midwestern stream ecosystems. Freshw Biol 37:193–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kaufmann JB, Cumming DL, Ward DE. 1994. Relationships of fire, biomass and nutrient dynamics along a vegetation gradient in the Brazilian Cerrado. J Ecol 82:519–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kaushal SS, Groffman PM, Mayer PM, Striz E, Gold AJ. 2008. Effects of stream restoration on denitrification in an urbanizing watershed. Ecol Appl 18:789–804.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kemp MJ, Dodds WK. 2001a. Centimeter-scale patterns in dissolved oxygen and nitrification rates in a prairie stream. J N Am Benthol Soc 20:347–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kemp MJ, Dodds WK. 2001b. Spatial and temporal patterns of nitrogen concentrations in pristine and agriculturally-influenced prairie streams. Biogeochemistry 53:125–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kemp MJ, Dodds WK. 2002. Comparisons of nitrification and denitrification in prairie and agriculturally influenced streams. Ecol Appl 12:998–1009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Knapp AK, Seastedt TR. 1986. Detritus accumulation limits productivity of tallgrass prairie. Bioscience 36:662–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Knight CL, Briggs JM, Nellis MD. 1994. Expansion of gallery forest on Konza Prairie Research Natural Area, Kansas, USA. Landscape Ecol 9:117–25.Google Scholar
  40. Kuzyakov Y, Domanski G. 2000. Carbon input by plants into the soil. Review. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 163:421–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lyons J, Trimble SW, Paine LK. 2000. Grass versus trees: managing riparian areas to benefit streams of central North America. J Am Water Resour Assoc 36:919–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. McClain ME, Boyer EW, Dent CL, Gergel SE, Grimm NB, Groffman PM, Hart SC, Harvey JW, Johnston CA, Mayorga E, McDowell WH, Pinay G. 2003. Biogeochemical hot spots and hot moments at the interface of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Ecosystems 6:301–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mulholland PJ, Helton AM, Poole GC, Hall RO, Hamilton SK, Peterson BJ, Tank JL, Ashkenas LR, Cooper LW, Dahm CN, Dodds WK, Findlay SEG, Gregory SV, Grimm NB, Johnson SL, McDowell WH, Meyer JL, Valett HM, Webster JR, Arango CP, Beaulieu JJ, Bernot MJ, Burgin AJ, Crenshaw CL, Johnson LT, Niederlehner BR, O’Brien JM, Potter JD, Sheibley RW, Sobota DJ, Thomas SM. 2008. Stream denitrification across biomes and its response to anthropogenic nitrate loading. Nature 452:202–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Newbold JD, Herbert S, Sweeney BW, Kiry P, Alberts SJ. 2010. Water quality functions of a 15-year-old riparian forest buffer system1. J Am Water Resour Assoc 46:299–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Norris MD, Blair JM, Johnson LC. 2007. Altered ecosystem nitrogen dynamics as a consequence of land cover change in tallgrass prairie. Am Midl Nat 158:432–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. NRCS (National Resource Conservation Service). 1997. Riparian forest buffer. Conservation Practices Sheet 391. US Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  47. Orr CH, Stanley EH, Wilson KA, Finlay JC. 2007. Effects of restoration and reflooding on soil denitrification in a leveed Midwestern floodplain. Ecol Appl 17:2365–76.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Osborne LL, Kovacic DA. 1993. Riparian vegetated buffer strips in water-quality restoration and stream management. Freshw Biol 29:243–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Peterson BJ, Wollheim WM, Mulholland PJ, Webster JR, Meyer JL, Tank JL, Marti E, Bowden WB, Valett HM, Hershey AE, McDowell WH, Dodds WK, Hamilton SK, Gregory S, Morrall DD. 2001. Control of nitrogen export from watersheds by headwater streams. Science 292:86–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Piña-Ochoa E, Álvarez-Cobelas M. 2006. Denitrification in aquatic environments: a cross-system analysis. Biogeochemistry 81:111–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pinay G, Roques L, Fabre A. 1993. Spatial and temporal patterns of denitrification in a riparian forest. J Appl Ecol 30:581–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Riley AJ, Dodds WK. 2012. The expansion of woody riparian vegetation, and subsequent stream restoration, influences the metabolism of prairie streams. Freshw Biol 57:1138–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Robertson GP, Vitousek PM, Matson PA, Tiedje JM. 1987. Denitrification in a clearcut Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) plantation in the southeastern US. Plant Soil 97:119–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rygiewicz PT, Anderson CP. 1994. Mycorrhizae alter quality and quantity of carbon allocated below ground. Nature 369:58–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Samson F, Knopf F. 1994. Prairie conservation in North-America. Bioscience 44:418–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Smith MS, Tiedje JM. 1979. Phases of denitrification following oxygen depletion in soil. Soil Biol Biochem 11:261–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Stanford G, Dzienia S, Vander Pol RA. 1975. Effect of temperature on denitrification rate in soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 39:867–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Turner CL, Blair JM, Schartz RJ, Neel JC. 1997. Soil N and plant responses to fire, topography, and supplemental N in tallgrass prairie. Ecology 78:1832–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). 2002. National water quality inventory: 2000 Report. EPA/841/R-01/001. Office of Water, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  60. Vidon P, Allan C, Burns D, Duval TP, Gurwick N, Inamdar S, Lowrance R, Okay J, Scott D, Sebestyen S. 2010. Hot spots and hot moments in riparian zones: potential for improved water quality management 1. J Am Water Resour Assoc 46:278–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vitousek PM, Aber JD, Howarth RW, Likens GE, Matson PA, Schindler DW, Schlesinger WH, Tilman DG. 1997. Human alteration of the global nitrogen cycle: sources and consequences. Ecol Appl 7:737–50.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander J. Reisinger
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • John M. Blair
    • 1
  • Charles W. Rice
    • 3
  • Walter K. Dodds
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  3. 3.Department of AgronomyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

Personalised recommendations