Water, Air, & Soil Pollution

, 227:390 | Cite as

Waterfowl Impoundments as Sources of Nitrogen Pollution

  • R. Scott Winton
  • Michelle Moorman
  • Curtis J. Richardson


Hydrologically controlled moist-soil impoundment wetlands provide critical habitat for high densities of migratory bird populations. Nutrients exported from heavily used impoundments by prescribed seasonal drawdown of surface water may contribute to the eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems. To investigate the relative importance of nutrient export from managed impoundment habitats, we conducted a field study at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, USA, which contains 1545 ha of impoundments that drain into hypereutrophic Lake Mattamuskeet. We found that prescribed hydrologic drawdowns of an impoundment exported roughly the same amount of nitrogen (N) as adjacent fertilized agricultural fields on a per-area basis and contributed approximately one fifth of total N load to Lake Mattamuskeet. The prescribed drawdown regime, designed to maximize waterfowl production in impoundments, may be exacerbating the degradation of habitat quality in the downstream lake as an unintended consequence. Few studies of wetland N dynamics have targeted impoundments managed to provide wildlife habitat, but a similar phenomenon may occur in some of the 36,000 ha of similarly managed moist-soil impoundments on National Wildlife Refuges in the southeastern USA, especially those hosting dense concentrations of waterfowl. We suggest an earlier seasonal drawdown could potentially mitigate impoundment N pollution and estimate it could reduce N export from our study impoundment by more than 70 %.


Wetlands Wildlife management Biogeochemistry Denitrification 



We thank J. Bills for helping instrument the field site; W. Willis for assisting with laboratory analyses; M. River, M. Ho, and R. Lauzon for providing help and companionship in the field; P. Campbell, A. Stewart, and J. Fringeli of the US Fish and Wildlife Service for generous hospitality and providing access to the field site; J. Parker for helping design and construct static chambers; and D. Prasodjo for providing visual basic programming expertise. This manuscript was improved by comments from E. Bernhardt and D. Richter. Funding was provided by the Carolina Bird Club, the Duke University Wetland Center endowment and the Duke University Graduate School. The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Scott Winton
    • 1
  • Michelle Moorman
    • 2
  • Curtis J. Richardson
    • 1
  1. 1.Duke University Wetland Center, Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDurhamUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge OfficeFairfieldUSA

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