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Contrasting Nutrient Mitigation and Denitrification Potential of Agricultural Drainage Environments with Different Emergent Aquatic Macrophytes

Jason M. Taylor, Matthew T. Moore, J. Thad Scott
Journal of environmental quality 2015 v.44 no.4 pp. 1304-1314
Leersia, Typha latifolia, agricultural runoff, denitrification, drainage, drainage channels, macrophytes, mass spectrometry, nitrates, nitrogen, nitrogen content, planting, remediation, vegetation, wetlands
Remediation of excess nitrogen (N) in agricultural runoff can be enhanced by establishing wetland vegetation, but the role of denitrification in N removal is not well understood in drainage ditches. We quantified differences in N retention during experimental runoff events followed by stagnant periods in mesocosms planted in three different vegetation treatments: unvegetated, cutgrass [Leersia oryzoides (L.) Sw.], and common cattail (Typha latifolia L.). We also quantified denitrification rates using membrane inlet mass spectrometry from intact cores extracted from each mesocosm treatment. All treatments retained 60% or more of NO₃⁻–N loads during the 6-h experimental runoff event, but mesocosms planted with cutgrass had significantly higher (68%) retention than the cattail (60%) or unvegetated (61%) treatments. After the runoff event, mesocosms planted in cattail reduced NO₃⁻–N concentrations by >95% within 24 h and cutgrass achieved similar reductions within 48 h, whereas reductions in the unvegetated mesocosms were significantly less (65%). Cores from cutgrass mesocosms had significantly higher average denitrification rates (5.93 mg m⁻² h⁻¹), accounting for as much as 56% of the immobilized NO₃⁻–N within 48 h, whereas denitrification rates were minimal in cores from the unvegetated (−0.19 mg m⁻² h⁻¹) and cattail (0.2 mg m⁻² h⁻¹) mesocosms. Our findings have implications for mitigating excess NO₃⁻–N in agricultural runoff. While vegetated treatments removed excess NO₃⁻–N from the water column at similar and significantly higher rates than unvegetated treatments, the high denitrification rates observed for cutgrass highlight the potential for permanent removal of excess N from agricultural runoff in vegetated ditches and wetlands.