, 31:853 | Cite as

The Wetland Disturbance Index: Links with Soil and Water Nitrate Concentrations

  • Michelle R. Cleveland
  • Erica A. H. Smithwick
  • Robert P. Brooks
  • Denice H. Wardrop


Human activities have increased deleterious nitrogen inputs to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The lessening of nitrogen inputs to streams can be achieved through the protection and restoration of riparian zones, including headwater wetlands. However, although headwater streams and their associated habitats account for the majority of the drainage area of rivers in Pennsylvania (U.S.A.), it is unknown how nitrogen cycling rates vary in headwater wetlands that differ in anthropogenic disturbance level. Thirteen forested headwater wetland sites within the Upper Juniata watershed, a major drainage basin of the Susquehanna-Chesapeake watershed, were selected based on a previously described, rapid assessment/disturbance index. The objective of this study was to determine whether relative soil nitrogen availability was correlated with a disturbance gradient created from the rapid assessment/disturbance index. Soil nitrogen at each site was collected with free ion exchange resin bags and analyzed for ammonium and nitrate. Results indicated that the disturbance index was predictive of relative soil nitrate availability (R2 = 0.69, p < 0.05). We conclude that the disturbance index is an effective, rapid assessment tool that could be used by managers to locate headwater wetlands with potentially high soil nitrate availability.


Hydrogeomorphic class Ion-exchange resin Pennsylvania Susquehanna-Chesapeake watershed 



Funding for Michelle R. Cleveland was provided by the Bunton Waller Diversity Fellowship, the Pennsylvania State University Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, and the Pennsylvania State University Center for Environmental Chemistry/Geochemistry Summer Fellowship. Site data and access was provided by Riparia(formerly the Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Center) at The Pennsylvania State University.


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle R. Cleveland
    • 3
    • 4
  • Erica A. H. Smithwick
    • 1
    • 2
  • Robert P. Brooks
    • 1
    • 2
  • Denice H. Wardrop
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Intercollege Graduate Program in EcologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  3. 3.Forest Resources BuildingThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.School of Forest ResourcesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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