There has been a long-term decline in nitrate (NO3−) concentration and export from several long-term monitoring watersheds in New England that cannot be explained by current terrestrial ecosystem models. A number of potential causes for this nitrogen (N) decline have been suggested, including changes in atmospheric chemistry, insect outbreaks, soil frost, and interannual climate fluctuations. In-stream removal of NO3− has not been included in current attempts to explain this regional decline in watershed NO3− export, yet streams may have high removal rates of NO3−. We make use of 40 years of data on watershed N export and stream N biogeochemistry from the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) to determine (a) whether there have been changes in HBEF stream N cycling over the last four decades and (b) whether these changes are of sufficient magnitude to help explain a substantial proportion of the unexplained regional decline in NO3− export. Examining how the tempos and modes of change are distinct for upland forest and stream ecosystems is a necessary step for improving predictions of watershed exports.
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Vol. 55 • No. 3