Nitrogen transformations in a through-flow wetland revealed using whole-ecosystem pulsed 15N additions

Jonathan M. O'Brien, Stephen K. Hamilton, Lauren E. Kinsman-Costello, Jay T. Lennon and Nathaniel E. Ostrom

Limnol. Oceanogr., 57(1), 2012, 221-234 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2012.57.1.0221

ABSTRACT: We used pulsed and continuous additions of 15N together with whole-ecosystem metabolism measurements to elucidate the mechanisms of nitrogen (N) transformations in a small (1170 m2) through-flow wetland situated along a stream. From measurements of the wetland inflow and outflow, we observed a consistent decrease in nitrate (by 10% of inflow concentrations), while ammonium increased by an order of magnitude. Outflow ammonium concentrations oscillated in a diel cycle, inverse to the concentration of dissolved oxygen (i.e., greater ammonium export at night). The pulsed 15N additions showed little uptake of nitrate over time in the wetland and rapid daytime uptake of ammonium from the water column (rate constant, kt = 0.11 h−1). A steady-state 15N-ammonium addition demonstrated a similar rate of ammonium uptake (kt = 0.067 h−1), no detectable nitrification, and highlighted the spatial pattern of ammonium and nitrate uptake within the wetland. Porewater concentration profiles suggest high rates of net ammonium diffusion from the sediments. Ecosystem metabolism measurements indicate that release was attenuated during the day by autotrophic uptake, resulting in lower ammonium export during the day. Denitrification rates were modeled from dissolved N2 : Ar ratios, but they were not sufficient to account for the observed loss in nitrate. Nitrate was removed near the pond inflow but not actively cycled throughout the pond, while the balance between sediment release and subsequent uptake of ammonium from the water-column dominated N cycling in this wetland.

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