Restored floodplains enhance denitrification compared to naturalized floodplains in agricultural streams

Brittany R. Hanrahan, Jennifer L. Tank, Martha M. Dee, Matt T. Trentman, Elizabeth M. Berg, Sara K. McMillan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Predicted changes in the timing and magnitude of storms have the potential to amplify water quality challenges associated with agricultural runoff. In agricultural streams of the Midwestern US, floodplain restoration has the potential to enhance inorganic nitrogen (N) removal by increasing the bioreactive surface area for microbially-mediated denitrification. The restoration of inset floodplains via construction of the two-stage ditch increases denitrification compared to channelized systems, however, little is known about how denitrification on restored floodplains compares to those formed naturally when stream channel management lapses. We used sacrificial microcosm incubations and membrane-inlet mass spectrometry (MIMS) to compare denitrification rates in floodplain soils collected along transects in both naturalized and restored floodplains; longitudinal transects spanned two zones in the active floodplain (near-stream, NS vs. middle, MID) and a third zone that reflected upland conditions in the riparian buffer strip (UP). Denitrification rates were 35–49% higher in the restored, inset floodplains compared to naturalized floodplains. Variation in denitrification rates were primarily explained by soil organic matter (OM) and OM was > 20% higher in restored floodplains than naturalized, highlighting the contrasts between stable, constructed floodplains with heterogeneous, depositional bars typical of naturalizing channels. Consequently, restored inset floodplains could remove > 70% more N than the naturalized floodplains during similar storm inundation events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-437
Number of pages19
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Agricultural streams
  • Denitrification
  • Inset floodplains
  • Restoration
  • Two-stage ditch


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