River floodplains have the potential to remove nitrate from water through denitrification, the anaerobic microbial conversion of nitrate to nitrogen gas. An important factor in this process is the interaction of river water with floodplain soil; however, many rivers have been disconnected from their historic floodplains by levees. To test the effect of reflooding a degraded floodplain on nitrate removal, we studied changes in soil denitrification rates on the Baraboo River floodplain in Wisconsin, USA, as it underwent restoration. Prior to this study, the site had been leveed, drained, and farmed for more than 50 years. In late fall 2002, the field drainage system was removed, and a gate structure was installed to allow controlled flooding of this site with river water. Soil moisture was extremely variable among zones and months and reflected local weather. Soil organic matter was stable over the study period with differences occurring along the elevation gradient. High soil nitrate concentrations occurred in dry, relatively organic-poor soil samples and, conversely, all samples with high moisture soils characterized by low nitrate. We measured denitrification in static cores and potential denitrification in bulk samples amended with carbon and nitrogen, one year before and two years following the manipulation. Denitrification rates showed high temporal and spatial variability. Static core rates of individual sites ranged widely (from 0.00 to 16.7 μg N2O-N·[kg soil]-1·h -1, mean ± SD = 1.10 ± 3.02), and denitrification enzyme activity (DEA) rates were similar with a slightly higher mean (from 0.00 to 15.0 ·g N2O-N·[kg soil]-1·h -1, 1.41 ± 1.98). Denitrification was not well-correlated with soil nitrate, organic matter content, or moisture levels, the three parameters typically thought to control denitrification. Static core denitrification rates were not significantly different across years, and DEA rates decreased slightly the second year after restoration. These results demonstrate that restored agricultural soil has the potential for denitrification, but that floodplain restoration did not immediately improve this potential. Future floodplain restorations should be designed to test alternative methods of increasing denitrification.
- River restoration
- Soil denitrification