Riparian zones can strongly influence the exchange of nutrients between streams and their watersheds. Most riparian studies have been done in mesic watersheds, which differ significantly from arid-land watersheds hydrologically. The goals of our work were to determine the strength and direction of hydrologic linkages between stream and riparian zone, and to estimate the extent of uptake of streamwater N by riparian trees in Sycamore Creek, a Sonoran Desert stream. Br− and 15NH4 were added simultaneously to the surface stream to trace water and N from stream to riparian zone. Br− concentrations in riparian wells installed downstream of the release point increased during the addition, demonstrating a strong hydrologic linkage from stream to riparian zone. Percentage stream water in wells increased in a downstream direction, suggesting little or no input of water laterally from uplands or vertically from deep groundwater. Leaf and wood samples collected from willow trees downstream of the addition point became significantly labeled with 15N during the addition, indicating uptake of streamwater N. Other tree species did not become labeled, most likely because they were located farther from the stream channel than the willows. Results from our study provide evidence of strong hydrologic linkage between stream and riparian zone and suggest that N demand by riparian vegetation is a potentially significant sink for streamwater N.
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