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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Patchiness in Microbial Nitrogen Transformations in Groundwater in a Riparian Forest


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 27 No. 1, p. 156-164
    Received: Apr 17, 1997

    * Corresponding author(s): capg@vm.marist.edu
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  1. Pierre-Andre Jacinthe,
  2. Peter M. Groffman *,
  3. Arthur J. Gold and
  4. Arvin Mosier
  1. Univ. of Rhode Island, Dep. of Natural Resources Science, Kingston, RI 02881;
    USDA-ARS, Ft. Collins, CO 80521.



We measured microbial N transformations in 15 cm diam. by 40 cm intact horizontal sections of aquifer material (mesocosms), taken from a riparian forest in Rhode Island, USA, incubated under ambient conditions. The mesocosms allowed us to measure these transformations on the same scale as hydrologic tracer methods (Br/NO3 ratios) that measure net NO3 removal. Our objective was to reconcile discrepancies between hydrologic tracer and microbial measurements in previous studies where laboratory-based microbial NO3 consumption measurements were much lower than in situ hydrologic measurements of net NO3 removal. We hypothesized that small “patches” of organic matter in the aquifer matrix, which are easily missed when sampling for microbial measurements, are “hotspots” of NO3 removal and are responsible for these discrepancies. Mesocosms were subjected to three treatments [Br only, Br + 15NO3 Br + 15NO3 + dissolved organic carbon (DOC)]. Solution (NH+4, NO3, dissolved organic N) and gaseous (N2O, 15N2O, and 15N2) inputs and outputs to the mesocosms were measured over a 132-d incubation, followed by destructive sampling for the presence of patches and residual 15N in aquifer matrix and patch material. Total (gross) NO3 consumption by denitrification and immobilization was greater than net removal of NO3 measured by Br/NO3 ratios. Net NO3 consumption was only observed in mesocosms that contained “patches” of organic matter and was not increased by addition of DOC, suggesting that these patches, which represent <1% of aquifer weight, are critical to groundwater NO3 removal in riparian forests.

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