Hydrogeomorphology Influences Soil Nitrogen and Phosphorus Mineralization in Floodplain Wetlands

Abstract

Conceptual models of river–floodplain systems and biogeochemical theory predict that floodplain soil nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) mineralization should increase with hydrologic connectivity to the river and thus increase with distance downstream (longitudinal dimension) and in lower geomorphic units within the floodplain (lateral dimension). We measured rates of in situ soil net ammonification, nitrification, N, and P mineralization using monthly incubations of modified resin cores for a year in the forested floodplain wetlands of Difficult Run, a fifth order urban Piedmont river in Virginia, USA. Mineralization rates were then related to potentially controlling ecosystem attributes associated with hydrologic connectivity, soil characteristics, and vegetative inputs. Ammonification and P mineralization were greatest in the wet backswamps, nitrification was greatest in the dry levees, and net N mineralization was greatest in the intermediately wet toe-slopes. Nitrification also was greater in the headwater sites than downstream sites, whereas ammonification was greater in downstream sites. Annual net N mineralization increased with spatial gradients of greater ammonium loading to the soil surface associated with flooding, soil organic and nutrient content, and herbaceous nutrient inputs. Annual net P mineralization was associated negatively with soil pH and coarser soil texture, and positively with ammonium and phosphate loading to the soil surface associated with flooding. Within an intensively sampled low elevation flowpath at one site, sediment deposition during individual incubations stimulated mineralization of N and P. However, the amount of N and P mineralized in soil was substantially less than the amount deposited with sedimentation. In summary, greater inputs of nutrients and water and storage of soil nutrients along gradients of river–floodplain hydrologic connectivity increased floodplain soil nutrient mineralization rates.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the USGS Chesapeake Priority Ecosystem Science, Hydrologic Networks & Analysis, and National Research Programs. We thank Nicholas Ostroski, Kristin Wolf, Ed Schenk, Myles Robinson, Mike Lowit, Krystal Bealing J. V. Loperfido, Dianna Hogan, and Meghan Fellows for their valuable contributions to its completion, and J. V. Loperfido and Camille Stagg for their constructive reviews of the manuscript. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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Correspondence to Gregory B. Noe.

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GBN analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. GBN led the study and was responsible for the collection of all soil data, CRH was responsible for the collection of all hydrologic and geomorphic data, and NBR was responsible for the collection of all vegetation data. All authors conceived the original study design and reviewed and commented on the manuscript.

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Noe, G.B., Hupp, C.R. & Rybicki, N.B. Hydrogeomorphology Influences Soil Nitrogen and Phosphorus Mineralization in Floodplain Wetlands. Ecosystems 16, 75–94 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-012-9597-0

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Keywords

  • nutrient
  • geomorphology
  • hydrologic connectivity
  • river
  • riparian
  • biogeochemistry