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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Nutrient Interception by a Riparian Forest Receiving Inputs from Adjacent Cropland


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 22 No. 3, p. 467-473
    Received: June 19, 1992

    * Corresponding author(s):
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  1. Thomas E. Jordan *,
  2. David L. Correll and
  3. Donald E. Weller
  1. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD 21037.



To investigate the ability of riparian forest to intercept nutrients leaving adjacent cropland, we examined changes in the chemistry of groundwater flowing from a corn (Zea mays L.) field through a riparian forest. This study provided a comparison to previous studies of a different forest. We sampled groundwater from a transect of wells, and used a Br tracer to confirm that groundwater moved laterally along the transect through the forest. As groundwater flowed through the forest, NO3 concentrations decreased from about 8 mg/L at the edge of the corn field to <0.4 mg/L halfway through the forest. Dissolved organic N and NH+4 increased by less than 0.1 mg/L, and dissolved organic C did not change with distance. Sulfate remained constant with distance until midway through the forest, where it began to increase. Chloride concentration rose until midway through the forest, then fell. Values of pH increased from under 5 at the edge of the corn field to over 7 at the stream bank, perhaps as a result of the NO3 consumption. Most of the change in NO3 occurred abruptly at the edge of a floodplain within the forest. There the water table was closest to the surface and soil Eh below the water table was less than −90 mV. Such strongly reducing conditions may have promoted denitrification in the floodplain. In contrast, soil Eh on the adjacent hill slope was above 500 mV, too high to support denitrification. There were only slight seasonal changes in groundwater chemistry. We also studied the net annual accretion of sediment in the riparian forest by measuring changes in the elevation of the soil surface. There was little or no accretion in the forest, but along a path of overland storm flow there was net erosion. Thus, nutrient retention by this forest, in contrast with the forest we previously studied, was entirely a below ground process. Functional differences within sections of this forest and among different riparian forests suggest a need for research on the factors that control nutrient retention.

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