Hot spots and hot moments of carbon and nitrogen dynamics in a semiarid riparian zone

Tamara K. Harms, Nancy Grimm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Riparian ecosystems are characterized by spatial and temporal heterogeneity in physical and biological attributes, with consequences for nutrient cycling. We investigated the responses of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling processes to the hydrogeomorphic template in the riparian zone of the San Pedro River, Arizona, a large (catchment area ∼11,500 km2), free-flowing, semiarid river. Over an annual period we documented spatial and temporal patterns in soil, shallow groundwater, and stream nutrient chemistry as well as rates of N-transforming processes in soils of the surface (0-17 cm) and region of seasonal saturation (RoSS). A hot moment of N retention and removal was indicated by elevated rates of microbial processes during the summer monsoon season. At the same time, elevated C was observed in soil microbial biomass for both surface soils and soils in the RoSS. Analyses of C-use profiles for soil microbes, coupled with trends in stream and shallow-groundwater chemistry, further suggest that this hot moment of N removal was fueled by newly available, labile organic material. In a spatial context, patchiness in soil resources, microbial biomass, and potential denitrification were best explained by variation in microtopography; low-elevation landscape positions were hot spots of resource availability and microbial activity. Vertical heterogeneity also corresponded with variation in the factors influencing N transformation rates. Organic matter was more frequently a significant factor explaining N transformation rates in RoSS soils whereas soil water content was more often important in surface soils. Together, these patterns suggest that understanding the points on the hydrogeomorphic template, both in space and in time, that bring together water and labile organic matter will lead to greater predictive capability regarding C and N cycling in semiarid river-riparian corridors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberG01020
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 28 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology


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