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Watershed management -- Southern Appalachian Region -- Water quality


We investigated the effects of removing near-stream Rhododendron and of the natural blowdown of canopy trees on nutrient export to streams in the southern Appalachians. Transects were instrumented on adjacent hillslopes in a first-order watershed at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory (35°03′N, 83°25′W). Dissolved organic carbon (DOC), K+, Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+, NO3-- -N, NH4+ -N, PO43---P, and SO42- were measured for 2 years prior to disturbance. In August 1995, riparian Rhododendron on one hillslope was cut, removing 30% of total woody biomass. In October 1995, Hurricane Opal uprooted nine canopy trees on the other hillslope, downing 81% of the total woody biomass. Over the 3 years following the disturbance, soilwater concentrations of NO3-- -N tripled on the cut hillslope. There were also small changes in soilwater DOC, SO42-, Ca2+, and Mg2+. However, no significant changes occurred in groundwater nutrient concentrations following Rhododendron removal. In contrast, soilwater NO3-- -N on the storm-affected hillslope showed persistent 500-fold increases, groundwater NO3-- -N increased four fold, and streamwater NO3-- -N doubled. Significant changes also occurred in soilwater pH, DOC, SO42-, Ca2+, and Mg2+. There were no significant changes in microbial immobilization of soil nutrients or water outflow on the storm-affected hillslope. Our results suggest that Rhododendron thickets play a relatively minor role in controlling nutrient export to headwater streams. They further suggest that nutrient uptake by canopy trees is a key control on NO3-- -N export in upland riparian zones, and that disruption of the root–soil connection in canopy trees via uprooting promotes significant nutrient loss to streams.


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