Does Anthropogenic Nitrogen Enrichment Increase Organic Nitrogen Concentrations in Runoff from Forested and Human-dominated Watersheds?

Academic Article


  • Although the effects of anthropogenic nitrogen (N) inputs on the dynamics of inorganic N in watersheds have been studied extensively, “the influence of N enrichment on organic N loss” is not as well understood. We compiled and synthesized data on surface water N concentrations from 348 forested and human-dominated watersheds with a range of N loads (from less than 100 to 7,100 kg N km-² y-¹) to evaluate the effects of N loading via atmospheric deposition, fertilization, and wastewater on dissolved organic N (DON) concentrations. Our results indicate that, on average, DON accounts for half of the total dissolved N (TDN) concentrations from forested watersheds, but it accounts for a smaller fraction of TDN in runoff from urban and agricultural watersheds with higher N loading. A significant but weak correlation (r ² = 0.06) suggests that N loading has little influence on DON concentrations in forested watersheds. This result contrasts with observations from some plot-scale N fertilization studies and suggests that variability in watershed characteristics and climate among forested watersheds may be a more important control on DON losses than N loading from atmospheric sources. Mean DON concentrations were positively correlated, however, with N load across the entire land-use gradient (r ² = 0.37, P < 0.01), with the highest concentrations found in agricultural and urban watersheds. We hypothesize that both direct contributions of DON from wastewater and agricultural amendments and indirect transformations of inorganic N to organic N represent important sources of DON to surface waters in human-dominated watersheds. We conclude that DON is an important component of N loss in surface waters draining forested and human-dominated watersheds and suggest several research priorities that may be useful in elucidating the role of N enrichment in watershed DON dynamics.
  • Authors

  • McDowell, Bill
  • Pellerin, BRIANA
  • Kaushal, SUJAYS
  • McDowell, WILLIAMH
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • August 2006
  • Has Subject Area

    Published In

  • Ecosystems  Journal
  • Keywords

  • agriculture
  • dissolved organic nitrogen
  • forest
  • nitrogen deposition
  • urbanization
  • watersheds
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 852
  • End Page

  • 864
  • Volume

  • 9
  • Issue

  • 5