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Denitrification potential and its relation to organic carbon quality in three coastal wetland soils

Dodla, Syam K., Wang, Jim J., DeLaune, Ron D., Cook, Robert. L.
Science of the total environment 2008 v.407 no.1 pp. 471-480
nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, soil organic carbon, nitrate nitrogen, soil depth, regression analysis, biosolids, salt marsh soils, coasts, salt marshes, lowland forests, acetylene, denitrification, wastewater, wetland soils, estuaries, nitrates, Louisiana
Capacity of a wetland to remove nitrate through denitrification is controlled by its physico-chemical and biological characteristics. Understanding these characteristics will help better to guide beneficial use of wetlands in processing nitrate. This study was conducted to determine the relationship between soil organic carbon (SOC) quality and denitrification rate in Louisiana coastal wetlands. Composite soil samples of different depths were collected from three different wetlands along a salinity gradient, namely, bottomland forest swamp (FS), freshwater marsh (FM), and saline marsh (SM) located in the Barataria Basin estuary. Potential denitrification rate (PDR) was measured by acetylene inhibition method and distribution of carbon (C) moieties in organic C was determined by ¹³C solid-state NMR. Of the three wetlands, the FM soil profile exhibited the highest PDR on both unit weight and unit volume basis as compared to FS and SM. The FM also tended to yield higher amount of N₂O as compared to the FS and SM especially at earlier stages of denitrification, suggesting incomplete reduction of NO₃ ⁻ at FM and potential for emission of N₂O. Saline marsh soil profile had the lowest PDR on the unit volume basis. Increasing incubation concentration from 2 to 10 mg NO₃ ⁻-N L⁻¹ increased PDR by 2 to 6 fold with the highest increase in the top horizons of FS and SM soils. Regression analysis showed that across these three wetland systems, organic C has significant effect in regulating PDR. Of the compositional C moieties, polysaccharides positively influenced denitrification rate whereas phenolics (likely phenolic adehydes and ketonics) negatively affected denitrification rate in these wetland soils. These results could have significant implication in integrated assessment and management of wetlands for treating nutrient-rich biosolids and wastewaters, non-point source agricultural runoff, and nitrate found in the diverted Mississippi River water used for coastal restoration.