Effects of headwater wetlands on dissolved nitrogen and dissolved organic carbon concentrations in a suburban New Hampshire watershed

Shelby A. Flint, William H. McDowell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Coupled processing of N and C in headwater wetlands can strongly affect downstream water quality. To understand how wetlands affect dissolved N and C concentrations in surface waters and the factors that influence changes in concentration, we measured landscape and physicochemical variables and dissolved N and C concentrations at the in- and outflows of 10 headwater wetlands in a suburban watershed (New Hampshire, USA) over 18 mo. We analyzed changes (Δ) in dissolved N and C concentrations (outflow - inflow) with linear mixed-effects models. A pulse in N2O concentrations that exceeded mean values by 2 to 3 orders of magnitude was observed during a summer characterized by rapidly fluctuating water-table elevations. NO3- concentrations were significantly lower, and DOC and DON concentrations were significantly higher at outflows than inflows. ΔNO3- was predicted by inflow concentrations of NO3-, NH4+, and DON, ΔDON, and season. ΔDON was predicted by inflow DON and DOC concentrations, ΔDOC, and dissolved O3 (as the mean of in- and outflow concentrations). ΔTDN (total dissolved nitrogen) was predicted by inflow TDN and DOC concentrations, dissolved O2, and season. ΔDOC was predicted by DON inflow concentration and ΔDON, season, and the ratio of study-wetland to subwatershed area. No significant predictors of ΔN2O or ΔNH4 + concentrations were found. In this suburban watershed, the passage of surface water through headwater wetlands is associated with decreased NO3- concentrations, increased DON and DOC concentrations, and seasonal shifts in TDN fractionation. Linear mixed-effects modeling was an effective approach to understanding coupled N and C dynamics in the study wetlands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)456-471
Number of pages16
JournalFreshwater Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Our study was funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (grant R-83058601-3) through the Connecticut River Airshed-Watershed Consortium and the New Hampshire Water Resources Research Center. Additional support was provided by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and the National Science Foundation EPS-1101245. We thank David Burdick, Jennifer Jacobs, and Ruth Varner for helpful discussions, Andrew Cooper, Gretchen Gettel, and Jessica Veysey-Powell for initial statistical consultation, and Michelle Daley, Jeffrey Merriam, and Jody Potter for help with geographical information systems and sample analysis. We are very grateful to Ruth Shaw, Associate Editor Amy Marcarelli, and 2 anonymous referees, whose comments greatly improved this manuscript. We deeply appreciate the cooperation of landowners who permitted us to access study sites. This research was conducted in partial fulfillment of a MS degree in Natural Resources at the University of New Hampshire.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by The Society for Freshwater Science.


  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Dissolved organic nitrogen
  • Mixed-effects models
  • Nitrate
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Season
  • Suburban
  • Wetlands


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