Headwater streams have a demonstrated ability to denitrify a portion of their nitrate (NO3-) load but there has not been an extensive consideration of where in a stream this process is occurring and how various habitats contribute to total denitrification capability. As part of the Lotic Intersite Nitrogen Experiment II (LINX II) we measured denitrification potential in 65 streams spanning eight regions of the US and draining three land-use types. In each stream, potential denitrification rates were measured in common substrate types found across many streams as well as locations unique to particular streams. Overall, habitats from streams draining urban and agricultural land-uses showed higher potential rates of denitrification than reference streams draining native vegetation. This difference among streams was probably driven by higher ambient nitrate concentrations found in urban or agricultural streams. Within streams, sandy habitats and accumulations of fine benthic organic matter contributed more than half of the total denitrification capacity (mg N removed m-2 h-1). A particular rate of potential denitrification per unit area could be achieved either by high activity per unit organic matter or lower activities associated with larger standing stocks of organic matter. We found that both small patches with high rates (hot spots) or more widespread but less active areas (cool matrix) contributed significantly to whole stream denitrification capacity. Denitrification estimated from scaled-up denitrification enzyme assay (DEA) potentials were not always dramatically higher than in situ rates of denitrification measured as 15N gas generation following 24-h 15N-NO3 tracer additions. In general, headwater streams draining varying land-use types have significant potential to remove nitrate via denitrification and some appear to be functioning near their maximal capacity.
- Comparison of potential with realized denitrification
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry
- Water Science and Technology
- Earth-Surface Processes