Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 160, Issue 1–4, pp 55–76 | Cite as

Influence of bedrock geology and tree species composition on stream nitrate concentrations in mid-appalachian forested watersheds

  • Karl W.J. WilliardEmail author
  • David R. Dewalle
  • Pamela J. Edwards


Although the large variations in nitrate export from forested watersheds have been attributed to a variety of natural and disturbance-related factors, baseflow nitrate concentrations in 49 mid-Appalachian forested watersheds were most strongly related to differences in bedrock geology. Within the mid-Appalachian region of Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, watersheds dominated by Pottsville and Allegheny sandstone (PVA), Catskill, Chemung, and Pocono shale and sandstone (CCP), and Mauch Chunk shale and Greenbrier limestone (MCG), respectively, exhibited significantly different low, intermediate, and high mean stream nitrate concentrations. Soil pH, soil percent N concentration (%N), soil C:N mass ratio, soil exchangeable Ca, watershed slope, and the occurrence of white ash (Fraxinus americana L.), sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.), and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis L.) were related significantly to bedrock geology type as well as stream nitrate levels. Other factors such as past land disturbances (fire and agriculture) and stand age (old-growth) typically were associated with only one bedrock geology type. However, within a bedrock geology type, past agriculture and the presence of old-growth forest may be important in explaining stream nitrate concentrations on an individual watershed basis. The basal area of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia L.), a species that enhances soil nitrogen levels via nitrogen fixation, showed a moderate positive correlation with stream nitrate concentrations. Bedrock geology explained the most variation in winter (49%) and summer (32%) stream nitrate concentrations. Bedrock geology may have been a better predictor of stream nitrate concentrations than soil chemistry, because the geologic variation was better assessed at the regional scale of this study compared to soil chemistry, which varies at the micro-scale due to topographic, vegetation, microbial, and climatic influences. Results of this study suggest that bedrock geology is an important factor to consider when assessing forest nitrogen dynamics at a broad landscape scale.


agriculture black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia L.) C:N ratio fire forest land-use history old-growth nitrate leaching nitrogen saturation water quality 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aber, J. D., Nadelhoffer, K. J., Steudler, P. and Melillo, J. M.: 1989, ‘Nitrogen saturation in northern forest ecosystems’, Bioscience 39, 378–387.Google Scholar
  2. Aber, J. D., McDowell, W., Nadelhoffer, K., Magill, A., Berntson, G., Kamakea, M., McNulty, S., currie, W., Rustad, L. and Fernandez, I.: 1998, ‘Nitrogen saturation in northern forest ecosystems: Hypotheses revisited’, Biosciences 48, 921–934.Google Scholar
  3. Aber, J. D., Goodale, C. L., Ollinger, S. V., Smith, M., Magill, A. H., Martin, M. E., Hallett, R. A. and Stoddard, J. L.: 2003, ‘Is nitrogen deposition altering the nitrogen status of northeastern forests?’, Bioscience 53, 375–389.Google Scholar
  4. Adams, M. B., Edwards, P. J., Wood, F. and Kochenderfer, J. N.: 1993, ‘Artificial watershed acidification on the Fernow Experimental Forest, USA’, J. Hydrol. 150, 505–519.Google Scholar
  5. Agren, G. I. and Bosatta, E.: 1988, ‘Nitrogen saturation of terrestrial ecosystems’, Environ. Pollut. 54, 185–197.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Alexander, M.: 1977, Introduction to Soil Microbiology, Wiley, New York, 467 pp.Google Scholar
  7. Alriksson, A. and Olsson, M. T: 1995, ‘Soil changes in different age classes of Norway Spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) on afforested farmland’, Plant Soil 168–169, 103–110.Google Scholar
  8. American Public Health Association: 1995, Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, American Public Health Association, Washington, DC, pp. 481–489, 495–496.Google Scholar
  9. Baccanti, M., Magni, P., Oakes, W., Lake, J. and Szakas, T.: 1993, ‘Application of an organic elemental analyzer for the analysis of nitrogen, carbon, and sulfur in soils’, Am. Environ. Lab. 5, 16–17.Google Scholar
  10. Berg, T. M. and Dodge, C. M.: 1981, Atlas of Preliminary Geologic Quadrangle Maps of Pennsylvania (Map 61), Pennsylvania Geologic Survey, Harrisburg, PA, USA.Google Scholar
  11. Binkley, D. and Valentine, D.: 1991, ‘Fifty-year biogeochemical effects of green ash, white pine, and Norway Spruce in a replicated experiment’, For. Ecol. Manage. 40, 13–25.Google Scholar
  12. Compton, J. E. and Boone, R. D.: 2000, ‘Long-term impacts of agriculture on soil carbon and nitrogen in New England forests’, Ecology 81, 2314–2330.Google Scholar
  13. Cooper, A. B.: 1990, ‘Nitrate depletion in the riparian zone and stream channel of a small headwater catchment’, Hydrobiology 202, 13–26.Google Scholar
  14. Dahlgren, R. A.: 1994, ‘Soil acidification and nitrogen saturation from weathering of ammonium bearing rock’, Nature 368, 838–840.Google Scholar
  15. Dahlgren, R. A. and Driscoll, C. T.: 1994, ‘The effects of whole-tree clearcutting on soil processes at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, USA’, Plant Soil 158, 239–262.Google Scholar
  16. Danso, S. K. A., Zapapta, F. and Awonaike, K. O.: 1995, ‘Measurement of biological N2 fixation in field-grown Robinia pseudoacacia L.’, Soil Biol. Biochem. 27, 415–419.Google Scholar
  17. DeWalle, D. R. and Pionke, H. B.: 1996, ‘Nitrogen export from forest land in the Chesapeake Bay region’, in Proceedings of the 1994 Chesapeake Bay Research Conference, Edgewater, MD, USA, pp. 649–655.Google Scholar
  18. DeWalle, D. R., Dinicola, R. S. and Sharpe, W. E.: 1987, ‘Predicting baseflow alkalinity as an index to episodic stream acidification and fish presence’, Water Resources Bull. 23, 29–35.Google Scholar
  19. Dise, N. B. and Wright, R. F.: 1995, ‘Nitrogen leaching from European forests in relation to nitrogen deposition’, Forest Ecol. Manage. 71, 153–161.Google Scholar
  20. Dise, N. B., Matzner, E. and Forsius, M.: 1998, ‘Evaluation of organic horizon C:N ratio as an indicator of nitrate leaching in conifer forests across Europe’, Environ. Pollut. 102, 453–456.Google Scholar
  21. Drohan, P. J. and DeWalle, D. R.: 2002, ‘Defoliation and atmospheric deposition influences on spring baseflow chemistry in 56 Pennsylvania mixed land-use watersheds’, Water Air Soil Pollut. 133, 31–48.Google Scholar
  22. Edwards, P. J., Williard, K. W. J. and Kochenderfer, J. N.: 2004, ‘Sampling considerations for establishment of baseline loadings from forested watersheds for TMDL application’, Environ. Monitor. Assess. 98, 201–223.Google Scholar
  23. Eshleman, K. N., Morgan, R. P., II, Webb, J. R., Deviney, F. A. and Galloway, J. N.: 1998. ‘Temporal patterns of nitrogen leakage from mid-Appalachian forested watersheds: Role of insect defoliation’, Water Resources Res. 34, 2005–2116.Google Scholar
  24. Fenn, M. E., Poth, M. A., Aber, J. D., Baron, J. S., Bormann, B. T., Johnson, D. W., Lemly, A. D., McNulty, S. G., Ryan, D. F. and Stottlemyer, R.: 1998, ‘Nitrogen excess in North American ecosystems: Predisposing factors, ecosystem responses, and management strategies’, Ecol. Appl. 8, 706–733.Google Scholar
  25. Gagnon, J. D.: 1965, ‘Nitrogen deficiency in the York River burn, Gaspe, Quebec’, Plant Soil 23, 49–59.Google Scholar
  26. Gilliam, F. S., Adams, M. B. and Yurish, B. M.: 1996, ‘Ecosystem nutrient responses to chronic nitrogen inputs at Fernow Experimental Forest, West Virginia’, Can. J. For. Res. 26, 196–205.Google Scholar
  27. Godman, R. M. and Lancaster, K.: 1990, ‘Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr. Eastern hemlock’, in R. M. Burns and B. H. Honkala (technical coordinators), Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers. Agriculture Handbook 654, vol. 2, USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC, pp. 604-612.Google Scholar
  28. Godman, R. M., Yawney, H. W. and Tubbs, C. H.: 1990, ‘Acer saccharum Marsh. Sugar maple’, in R. M. Burns and B. H. Honkala (technical coordinators), Silvics of North America: 2. Hardwoods. Agriculture Handbook 654, vol. 2, USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC, pp. 78–91.Google Scholar
  29. Goodale, C. L. and Aber, J. D.: 2001, ‘The long-term effects of land-use history on nitrogen cycling in northern hardwood forests’, Ecol. Appl. 11, 253–267.Google Scholar
  30. Goodale, C. L., Aber, J. D. and McDowell, W. H.: 2000, ‘The long-term effects of disturbance on organic and inorganic nitrogen export in the White Mountains, New Hampshire’, Ecosystems 3, 433–450.Google Scholar
  31. Goyne, K. W.: 1998, ‘Comparisons of soil solution chemistry and quantity from soil formed on contrasting geologic units’, M.S. Thesis, Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, USA, 230 pp.Google Scholar
  32. Grier, C. C.: 1975, ‘Wildfire effects on nutrient distribution and leaching in a coniferous ecosystem’, Can. J. For. Res. 5, 599–607.Google Scholar
  33. Gundersen, P., Callesen, I. and de Vries, W.: 1998, ‘Nitrate leaching in forested ecosystems is related to forest floor C:N Ratios’, Environ. Pollut. 102, 403–407.Google Scholar
  34. Hill, A. R., Devito, K. J., Campagnola, S. and Sanmugadas, K.: 2000, ‘Subsurface denitrification in a forest riparian zone: Interactions between hydrology and supplies of nitrate and organic carbon’, Biogeochemistry 51, 193–223.Google Scholar
  35. Holloway, J. M., Dahlgren, R. A., Hansen, B. and Casey, W. H.: 1998, ‘Contributions of bedrock nitrogen to high nitrate concentrations in stream water’, Nature 395, 785–788.Google Scholar
  36. Hornbeck, J. W. and Lawrence, G. B.: 1996, ‘Eastern forest fires can have long-term impacts on nitrogen cycling’, in Proceedings of the 1996 Society of American Foresters Convention, Diverse Forests, Abundant Opportunities, and Evolving Realities, Albuquerque, NM, USA, November 1996, pp. 435–436.Google Scholar
  37. Hornbeck, J. W., Martin, C. W., Pierce, R. S., Bormann, F. H., Likens, G. E. and Eaton, J. S.: 1987, ‘The northern hardwood ecosystem: Ten years of recovery from clearcutting’, USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, NE-RP-596.Google Scholar
  38. Huttl, R. F. and Schaaf, W.: 1995, ‘Nutrient supply of forest soils in relation to management and site history’, Plant Soil 168–169, 31–41.Google Scholar
  39. Johnson, A. H. and Reynolds, R. C., Jr.: 1977, ‘Chemical character of headwater streams in Vermont and New Hampshire’, Water Resources Res. 13, 469–473.Google Scholar
  40. Johnson, D. W. and Lindberg, S. E. (eds): 1992, Atmospheric Deposition and Forest Nutrient Cycling, Ecological Studies 91, Springer-Verlag, New York, 707 pp.Google Scholar
  41. Lewis, G. P. and Likens, G. E.: 2000, ‘Low stream nitrate concentrations associated with oak forests on the Allegheny High Plateau of Pennsylvania’, Water Resources Res. 36, 3091–3094.Google Scholar
  42. Lovett, G. M., Weathers, K. C. and Sobczak, W. V.: 2000, ‘Nitrogen saturation and retention in forested watersheds of the Catskill Mountains, New York’, Ecol. Appl. 10, 73–84.Google Scholar
  43. Lovett, G. M., Weathers, K. C. and Arthur, M. A.: 2002, ‘Control of nitrogen loss from forested watersheds by soil carbon: nitrogen ratio and tree species composition’, Ecosystems 5, 712–718.Google Scholar
  44. Lynch, J. A. and Corbett, E. S.: 1991, ‘Long-term implications of forest harvesting on nutrient cycling in Central Hardwood Forests’, in L. H. McCormick and K. W. Gottschalk (eds), Proceedings of the Eighth Central Hardwood Forest Conference, USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, General Technical Report NE-148, pp. 500–518.Google Scholar
  45. Maryland Geological Survey: 1953, ‘Geologic map of Garrett County, Maryland’, Baltimore, MD, USA.Google Scholar
  46. Montagnini, F., Haines, B., Boring, L. and Swank, W.: 1986 ‘Nitrification potentials in early successional black locust and in mixed hardwood forest stands in the Southern Appalachians, USA’, Biogeochemistry 2, 197–210.Google Scholar
  47. Montagnini, F., Haines, B. and Swank, W. T.: 1991, ‘Soil solution chemistry in black locust, pine/mixed-hardwoods and oak/hickory forest stands in the Southern Appalachians, USA’, For. Ecol. Manage. 40, 199–208.Google Scholar
  48. Mulholland, P. J., Tank, J. L. Sanzone, D. M., Wollheim, W. M., Peterson, B. J., Webster, J. R. and Meyer, J. L.: 2000, ‘Nitrogen cycling in a forest stream determined by a 15N tracer addition’, Ecol. Monogr. 70, 471–493.Google Scholar
  49. Noether, G. E.: 1991, Introduction to Statistics: The Nonparametric Way, Springer-Verlag, New York, 414 pp.Google Scholar
  50. Norris, V., Chen, M., Goldberg, M., Voskuil, J., McGurk, G. and Holland, I. B.: 1991, ‘Calcium in bacteria: A solution to which problem?’ Mol. Microbiol. 5, 775–778.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Ollinger, S. V., Smith, M. L., Martin, M. E., Hallet, R. A., Goodale, C. L. and Aber, J. D.: 2002, ‘Regional variation in foliar chemistry and N cycling among forests of diverse history and composition’, Ecol. 83, 339–355.Google Scholar
  52. Pardo, L. H., Driscoll, C. T. and Likens, G. E.: 1995, ‘Patterns of nitrate loss from a chronosequence of clear-cut watersheds’, Water Air Soil Pollut. 85, 1659–1664.Google Scholar
  53. Paul, E. A. and Clark, F. E. (eds): 1996, Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry, Academic Press, San Diego, CA, USA, 340 pp.Google Scholar
  54. Peterjohn, W. T., Adams, M. B. and Gilliam, F. S.: 1996, ‘Symptoms of nitrogen saturation in two Central Appalachian hardwood forest ecosystems’, Biogeochemistry 35, 507–522.Google Scholar
  55. Ponce, S. L., Sundeen, K. D. and Striffler, W. D.: 1979, ‘Effect of selected geology-soil complexes on water quality of the Little Black Fork Creek’, Report to USDA Forest Service, Northeast Forest Experiment Station, 96 pp.Google Scholar
  56. Raison, R. J.: 1979, ‘Modification of the soil environment by vegetation fires, with particular reference to nitrogen transformations: A review’, Plant Soil 51, 73–108.Google Scholar
  57. Reger, D. B.: 1923, Tucker County, West Virginia, Geological Survey, Wheeling News Litho. Co., Wheeling, WV, USA.Google Scholar
  58. Reger, D. B.: 1931, Randolph County, West Virginia, Geological Survey, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA.Google Scholar
  59. Riha, S. J., Campbell, G. S. and Wolfe, J.: 1986, ‘A model of competition for ammonium among heterotrophs, nitrifiers, and roots’, Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 50, 1463–1466.Google Scholar
  60. Ross, D.: 1995, ‘Recommended methods for determining soil cation exchange capacity’, in J. T. Sims and A. Wolf (eds), Recommended Soil Testing Procedures for the Northeastern United States, Northeast Regional Bulletin #493, Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA, pp. 57–62.Google Scholar
  61. SAS Institute Inc.: 1985, SAS User’s Guide: Statistics, Version Fifth Edition, SAS Institute Inc. Cary, NC, USA, 956 pp.Google Scholar
  62. Schimel, J. P. and Firestone, M. K.: 1989, ‘Nitrogen incorporation and flow through a coniferous forest soil profile’, Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 53, 779–784.Google Scholar
  63. Schlesinger, R. C.: 1990, ‘Fraxinus americana L. White ash’, in R. M. Burns and B. H. Honkala (technical coordinators), Silvics of North America: 2. Hardwoods. Agriculture Handbook 654, vol. 2, USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC, pp. 333–338.Google Scholar
  64. Silsbee, D. G. and Larson G. L.: 1982, ‘Water quality of streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’, Hydrobiology 89, 97–115.Google Scholar
  65. Sims, J. T. and Eckert, D.: 1995, ‘Recommended Soil pH and Lime Requirement Test’ in J. T. Sims and A. Wolf (eds), Recommended Soil Testing Procedures for the Northeastern United States, Northeast Regional Bulletin #493, Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA.Google Scholar
  66. Smith, R. J.: 1995 ‘Calcium and bacteria’, Adv. Microb. Physiol. 37, 83–133.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Stednick, J. D. and Kern, T. J.: 1992, ‘Long-term effects of timber harvesting in the Oregon coast range: The New Alsea Watershed Study (NAWS)’, in Interdisciplinary Approaches in Hydrology and Hydrogeology, American Institute of Hydrology, St. Paul, MN, pp. 502-510.Google Scholar
  68. Stoddard, J. L.: 1994, ‘Long-term changes in watershed retention of nitrogen: Its causes and aquatic consequences’, in L. A. Baker (ed), Environmental Chemistry of Lakes and Reservoirs, Advances in Chemistry, Series No. 237, American Chemistry Society, Washington, DC, pp. 223–284.Google Scholar
  69. Swank, W. T., Waide, J. B., Crossley, D. A., Jr. and Todd, R.: 1981, ‘Insect defoliation enhances nitrate export from forest ecosystems’, Oecologia 51, 297–299.Google Scholar
  70. Taylor, L. E., Werkheiser, W. H. and Kriz, M. L.: 1983, ‘Groundwater resources of the West Branch Susquehanna River basin, Pennsylvania’, Water Resources Report 56, Pennsylvania Geological Survey, Fourth Series, Harrisburg, PA, USA.Google Scholar
  71. Taylor, L. E., Werkheiser, W. H., duPont, N. S. and Kriz, M. L.: 1982, ‘Groundwater resources of the Juniata River basin, Pennsylvania’, Water Resources Report 54, Pennsylvania Geological Survey, Fourth Series, Harrisburg, PA, USA.Google Scholar
  72. Van Miegroet, H. and Cole, D. W.: 1984, ‘The impact of nitrification on soil acidification and cation leaching in a red alder forest’, J. Environ. Qual. 13, 586–590.Google Scholar
  73. Vannote, R. L. Minshall, G. W., Cummins, K. W., Sedell, J. R. and Cushing, C. E.: 1980, ‘The river continuum concept’, Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 37, 130–137.Google Scholar
  74. Vitousek, P. M. and Reiners, W. A.: 1975, ‘Ecosystem succession and nutrient retention: A hypothesis’, Bioscience 25, 376–381.Google Scholar
  75. Webb, J. R., Cosby, B. J., Deviney, F. A., Jr., Eshleman, K. N. and Galloway, J. N.: 1995, ‘Change in the acid–base status of an Appalachian mountain catchment following forest defoliation by gypsy moth’, Water Air Soil Pollut. 85, 535–540.Google Scholar
  76. Wenger, K. F. (ed): 1984, Forestry Handbook, Wiley, New York, 1335 pp.Google Scholar
  77. Wentworth, C. K.: 1930, ‘A simplified method of determining the average slope of land surfaces’, Am. J. Sci.. 20, 184–194.Google Scholar
  78. Williard, K. W. J., DeWalle, D. R., Edwards, P. J. and Schnabel, R. R.: 1997, ‘Indicators of nitrate export from forested watersheds of the mid-Appalachians, United States of America’, Global Biogeochem. Cycles 11, 649–656.Google Scholar
  79. Williard, K. W. J., DeWalle, D. R. and Edwards, P. J.: 2003, ‘Assessing the extent of nitrogen saturation in northern West Virginia forested watersheds: A survey of stream nitrate concentrations’, in J. W. Van Sambeek, J. O. Dawson, F. Ponder, Jr., E. F. Loewenstein and J. S. Fralish (eds), Proceedings of the Thirteenth Central Hardwood Forest Conference, Urbana, IL, USA, 1–3 April 2002, General Technical Report NC-234, US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Research Station, St. Paul, MN, pp. 121–129.Google Scholar
  80. Wolfe, A. and Beegle, D.: 1995, ‘Recommended soil tests for macronutrients: Phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium’, in J. T. Sims and A. Wolf (eds), Recommended Soil Testing Procedures for the Northeastern United States, Northeast Regional Bulletin #493, Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA, pp. 25–34.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karl W.J. Williard
    • 1
    Email author
  • David R. Dewalle
    • 2
  • Pamela J. Edwards
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of ForestrySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleU.S.A.
  2. 2.School of Forest Resources and Penn State Institutes of the EnvironmentPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkU.S.A.
  3. 3.USDA Forest ServiceNortheastern Research StationParsonsU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations