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Multipurpose oxbows as a nitrate export reduction practice in the agricultural Midwest

November 1, 2019

Core Ideas

  • Oxbows reduce nitrate export from agricultural fields to adjacent rivers and streams.
  • Oxbows are important habitat for wildlife, including the endangered Topeka shiner.
  • Oxbows have largely disappeared from midwestern landscapes modified for agriculture.
  • Restoring multipurpose oxbows provides multiple benefits in the agricultural Midwest.

Nutrient export from the agricultural US Midwest influences streams and rivers and contributes to the development of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Oxbows are natural waterbodies formed when a river cuts off a meander loop as it migrates within its floodplain. Creation of multipurpose oxbows by restoration of former oxbows can potentially reduce export of nitrate-nitrogen (nitrate) from agricultural land as well as provide important habitat for many species, including the endangered Topeka shiner. Recent studies of nitrate export reduction by oxbows in Iowa are encouraging, demonstrating a 45% reduction in nitrate export of water entering oxbows from subsurface tiles compared with water discharged to the adjacent stream. Oxbow restorations are as effective as several other nutrient reduction practices, are relatively inexpensive, last for decades if not centuries, remove little or no land from agricultural production, and provide significant ecosystem services. Multipurpose oxbows are a promising new best management practice for reducing nitrate export from agricultural lands.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Multipurpose oxbows as a nitrate export reduction practice in the agricultural Midwest
DOI 10.2134/ael2019.09.0035
Authors Keith E. Schilling, Karen Wilke, Clay Pierce, Keegan Kult, Aleshia Kenny
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Agricultural & Environmental Letters
Index ID 70228429
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Leetown

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