Main content area

Tracking the fate of nitrate through pulse-flow wetlands: A mesocosm scale 15N enrichment tracer study

Messer, Tiffany L., Burchell, Michael R., Böhlke, J.K., Tobias, Craig R.
Ecological engineering 2017 v.106 pp. 597-608
ammonium, constructed wetlands, denitrification, isotopes, nitrate nitrogen, nitrates, nitrogen, organic matter, phytomass, stormwater, wetland soils
Quantitative information about the fate of applied nitrate (NO3-N) in pulse-flow constructed wetlands is essential for designing wetland treatment systems and assessing their nitrogen removal services for agricultural and stormwater applications. Although many studies have documented NO3-N losses in wetlands, controlled experiments indicating the relative importance of different processes and N sinks are scarce. In the current study, 15NO3-N isotope enrichment tracer experiments were conducted in wetland mesocosms of two different wetland soil types at two realistic agricultural NO3-N source loads. The 15N label was traced from the source NO3-N into plant biomass, soil (including organic matter and ammonium), and N-gas constituents over 7–10day study periods. All sinks responded positively to higher NO3-N loading. Plant uptake exceeded denitrification 2–3 fold in the low NO3-N loading experiments, while both fates were nearly equivalent in the high loading experiments. One to two years later, soils largely retained the assimilated tracer N, whereas plants had lost much of it. Results demonstrated that plant and microbial assimilation in the soil (temporary N sinks) can exceed denitrification (permanentN loss) in pulse-flow environments and must be considered by wetland designers and managers for optimizing nitrogen removal potential.