Forest age, wood and nutrient dynamics in headwater streams of the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, NH

Dana R. Warren, Emily S. Bernhardt, Robert O. Hall, Gene E. Likens

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52 Scopus citations


Instream processing may substantially alter nutrient export from forested watersheds. This study tested how instream uptake of N and P were affected by successional differences in the accumulation of large wood and debris dams in a 66-year chronosequence formed by five watersheds within the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF), NH. Nutrient enrichment releases in summer 1998 were used to measure the uptake velocities of phosphate, nitrate and ammonium for five streams within HBEF, and results indicated that uptake of PO43- was closely associated with forest age. In 2004, we quantified volume and abundance of large wood in each stream to test whether large wood abundance could be linked to nitrate uptake as well as phosphate. The volume of instream wood increased with forest age, at an apparent rate of 0.03 m3 (100 m)-1 per year for these early to mid-successional forests (r2 = 0.95); however, debris dam frequency did not. Instead, debris dam frequency, when controlled for stream size, followed a U-shaped distribution, with high dam frequency in very young forests, low frequency in forests around 20-30 years of age and increasing dam frequency again as forests matured. Phosphate uptake velocity increased strongly with both forest age and large wood volume (r2 = 0.99; p < 0.001 in both cases); however, nitrate and ammonium uptake were not related to either factor. We attribute the positive relationship between phosphate uptake velocity and forest age/large wood volume to increased abiotic adsorption of phosphate by the inorganic sediments retained by wood. Nitrogen uptake in these streams is primarily biologically driven and did not vary predictably with these structural features of channels. We expect wood abundance to increase in HBEF streams as the forest matures, with a subsequent increase in stream phosphate uptake capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1154-1163
Number of pages10
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Debris dam
  • Hubbard Brook
  • Instream processing
  • Large wood
  • Large woody debris
  • Uptake velocity


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