Hillslope Nutrient Dynamics Following Upland Riparian Vegetation Disturbance
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Type of Work16 pages
Citation of Original PublicationYeakley, J., Coleman, D. C., Haines, B. L., Kloeppel, B. D., Meyer, J. L., Swank, W. T., & ... Taylor, S. F. (2003). Hillslope Nutrient Dynamics Following Upland Riparian Vegetation Disturbance. Ecosystems, 6(2), 0154-0167.
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dissolved organic carbon
southern Appalachian mountains
We investigated the effects of removing near-stream Rhododendron and of the natural blowdown of canopy trees on nutrient export to streams in the southern Appalachians. Transects were instrumented on adjacent hillslopes in a first-order watershed at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory (35°03′N, 83°25′W). Dissolved organic carbon (DOC), K⁺, Na⁺, Ca²⁺, Mg²⁺, NO₃⁻-N, NH₄⁺-N, PO₄³−-P, and SO₄²− were measured for 2 years prior to disturbance. In August 1995, riparian Rhododendron on one hillslope was cut, removing 30% of total woody biomass. In October 1995, Hurricane Opal uprooted nine canopy trees on the other hillslope, downing 81% of the total woody biomass. Over the 3 years following the disturbance, soilwater concentrations of NO₃⁻-N tripled on the cut hillslope. There were also small changes in soilwater DOC, SO₄²⁻, Ca²⁺, and Mg²⁺. However, no significant changes occurred in groundwater nutrient concentrations following Rhododendron removal. In contrast, soilwater NO₃⁻-N on the storm-affected hillslope showed persistent 500-fold increases, groundwater NO₃−-N increased four fold, and streamwater NO₃−-N doubled. Significant changes also occurred in soilwater pH, DOC, SO₄²⁻, Ca²⁺, and Mg²⁺. There were no significant changes in microbial immobilization of soil nutrients or water outflow on the storm-affected hillslope. Our results suggest that Rhododendron thickets play a relatively minor role in controlling nutrient export to headwater streams. They further suggest that nutrient uptake by canopy trees is a key control on NO3−-N export in upland riparian zones, and that disruption of the root–soil connection in canopy trees via uprooting promotes significant nutrient loss to streams.