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Microtopography enhances nitrogen cycling and removal in created mitigation wetlands

January 1, 2011

Natural wetlands often have a heterogeneous soil surface topography, or microtopography (MT), that creates microsites of variable hydrology, vegetation, and soil biogeochemistry. Created mitigation wetlands are designed to mimic natural wetlands in structure and function, and recent mitigation projects have incorporated MT as one way to attain this goal. Microtopography may influence nitrogen (N) cycling in wetlands by providing adjacent areas of aerobic and anaerobic conditions and by increasing carbon storage, which together facilitate N cycling and removal. This study investigated three created wetlands in the Virginia Piedmont that incorporated disking-induced MT during construction. One site had paired disked and undisked plots, allowing an evaluation of the effects of this design feature on N flux rates. Microtopography was measured using conventional survey equipment along a 1-m circular transect and was described using two indices: tortuosity (T), describing soil surface roughness and relief, and limiting elevation difference (LD), describing soil surface relief. Ammonification, nitrification, and net N mineralization were determined with in situ incubation of modified ion-exchange resin cores and denitrification potential was determined using denitrification enzyme assay (DEA). Results demonstrated that disked plots had significantly greater LD than undisked plots one year after construction. Autogenic sources of MT (e.g. tussock-forming vegetation) in concert with variable hydrology and sedimentation maintained and in some cases enhanced MT in study wetlands. Tortuosity and LD values remained the same in one wetland when compared over a two-year period, suggesting a dynamic equilibrium of MT-forming and -eroding processes at play. Microtopography values also increased when comparing the original induced MT of a one-year old wetland with MT of older created wetlands (five and eight years old) with disking-induced MT, indicating that MT can increase by natural processes over time. When examined along a hydrologic gradient, LD increased with proximity to an overflow point as a result of differential sediment deposition and erosion during flood events. Nitrification increased with T and denitrification potential increased with LD, indicating that microtopographic heterogeneity enhances coupled N fluxes. The resulting N flux patterns may be explained by the increase in oxygen availability elicited by greater T (enhancing nitrification) and by the adjacent zones of aerobic and anaerobic conditions elicited by greater LD (enhancing coupled nitrification and denitrification potential). Findings of this study support the incorporation of MT into the design and regulatory evaluation of created wetlands in order to enhance N cycling and removal. ?? 2011.

Publication Year 2011
Title Microtopography enhances nitrogen cycling and removal in created mitigation wetlands
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoleng.2011.03.013
Authors K.L. Wolf, C. Ahn, G.B. Noe
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Engineering
Index ID 70032484
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse