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Restored floodplains enhance denitrification compared to naturalized floodplains in agricultural streams

Abstract

Predicted changes in the timing and magnitude of storms have the potential to amplify water quality challenges associated with agricultural runoff. In agricultural streams of the Midwestern US, floodplain restoration has the potential to enhance inorganic nitrogen (N) removal by increasing the bioreactive surface area for microbially-mediated denitrification. The restoration of inset floodplains via construction of the two-stage ditch increases denitrification compared to channelized systems, however, little is known about how denitrification on restored floodplains compares to those formed naturally when stream channel management lapses. We used sacrificial microcosm incubations and membrane-inlet mass spectrometry (MIMS) to compare denitrification rates in floodplain soils collected along transects in both naturalized and restored floodplains; longitudinal transects spanned two zones in the active floodplain (near-stream, NS vs. middle, MID) and a third zone that reflected upland conditions in the riparian buffer strip (UP). Denitrification rates were 35–49% higher in the restored, inset floodplains compared to naturalized floodplains. Variation in denitrification rates were primarily explained by soil organic matter (OM) and OM was > 20% higher in restored floodplains than naturalized, highlighting the contrasts between stable, constructed floodplains with heterogeneous, depositional bars typical of naturalizing channels. Consequently, restored inset floodplains could remove > 70% more N than the naturalized floodplains during similar storm inundation events.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program 074483-15949. BRH was supported in part by a University of Notre Dame Center for Environmental Science and Technology (CEST)/Bayer Predoctoral Fellowship. We thank numerous members of the McMillan and Tank Labs for their assistance with field and lab work, including Amanda Montgomery, Ariana Montayo Lozano, Maria Laura Ortiz de Zarate, Celena Alford, Ursula Mahl, Kyle White, Edward Lopez, and Matthew Kirian. We thank Dr. Sarah S. Roley for insightful feedback on this work.

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Correspondence to Brittany R. Hanrahan.

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Hanrahan, B.R., Tank, J.L., Dee, M.M. et al. Restored floodplains enhance denitrification compared to naturalized floodplains in agricultural streams. Biogeochemistry 141, 419–437 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-018-0431-4

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Keywords

  • Denitrification
  • Inset floodplains
  • Restoration
  • Two-stage ditch
  • Agricultural streams