Denitrification kinetics and denitrifier abundances in sediments of lakes receiving atmospheric nitrogen deposition (Colorado, USA)

Michelle L. McCrackin, James J. Elser

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23 Scopus citations


The transport and deposition of anthropogenic nitrogen (N) to downwind ecosystems is significant and can be a dominant source of new N to many watersheds. Bacterially mediated denitrification in lake sediments may ameliorate the effects of N loading by permanently removing such inputs. We measured denitrification in sediments collected from lakes in the Colorado Rocky Mountains (USA) receiving elevated (5-8 kg N ha -1 y -1) or low (<2 kg N ha -1 y -1) inputs of atmospheric N deposition. The nitrate (NO 3 -) concentration was significantly greater in high-deposition lakes (11.3 μmol l -1) compared to low-deposition lakes (3.3 μmol l -1). Background denitrification was positively related to NO 3 - concentrations and we estimate that the sampled lakes are capable of removing a significant portion of N inputs via sediment denitrification. We also conducted a dose-response experiment to determine whether chronic N loading has altered sediment denitrification capacity. Under Michaelis-Menten kinetics, the maximum denitrification rate and half-saturation NO 3 - concentration did not differ between deposition regions and were 765 μmol N m -2 h -1 and 293 μmol l -1 NO 3 -, respectively, for all lakes. We enumerated the abundances of nitrate-and nitrite-reducing bacteria and found no difference between high-and low-deposition lakes. The abundance of these bacteria was related to available light and bulk sediment resources. Our findings support a growing body of evidence that lakes play an important role in N removal and, furthermore, suggest that current levels of N deposition have not altered the abundance of denitrifying bacteria or saturated the capacity for sediment denitrification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-54
Number of pages16
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • Atmospheric nitrogen deposition
  • Denitrification
  • Denitrifier abundance
  • Lake
  • Sediment


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