In many temperate forested watersheds, hydrologic nitrogen export has declined substantially in recent decades, and many of these watersheds show enduring effects from historic acid deposition. A watershed acid remediation experiment in New Hampshire reversed many of these legacy effects of acid deposition and also increased watershed nitrogen export, suggesting that these two phenomena may be coupled. Here we examine stream nitrate dynamics in this watershed acid remediation experiment for indicators of nitrogen saturation in the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Post-treatment, the (positive) slope of the relationship between nitrate concentration and discharge increased by a median of 82% (p = 0.004). This resulted in greater flushing of nitrate during storm events, a key indicator of early stage nitrogen saturation. Hysteretic behavior of the concentration-discharge relationship indicated that the mobilization of soil nitrate pools was responsible for this increased flushing. In contrast to this evidence for nitrogen saturation in the terrestrial ecosystem, we found that nitrogen uptake increased, post-treatment, in the aquatic ecosystem, substantially attenuating growing-season nitrate flux by up to 71.1% (p = 0.025). These results suggest that, as forests slowly recover from acid precipitation, terrestrial, and aquatic ecosystem nitrogen balance may be substantially altered.
Marinos, Richard E.; Campbell, John L.; Driscoll, Charles T.; Likens, Gene E.; McDowell, William H.; Rosi, Emma J.; Rustad, Lindsey E.; Bernhardt, Emily S. 2018. Give and Take: A Watershed Acid Rain Mitigation Experiment Increases Baseflow Nitrogen Retention but Increases Stormflow Nitrogen Export. Environmental Science & Technology. 52(22): 13155-13165. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.8b03553.