Nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide flux in urban forests and grasslands
Received for publication December 16, 2008. Urban landscapes contain a mix of land-use types with different patterns of nitrogen (N) cycling and export. We measured nitrate (NO3–) leaching and soil:atmosphere nitrous oxide (N2O) flux in four urban grassland and eight forested long-term study plots in the Baltimore, Maryland metropolitan area. We evaluated ancillary controls on these fluxes by measuring soil temperature, moisture, and soil:atmosphere fluxes of carbon dioxide on these plots and by sampling a larger group of forest, grass, and agricultural sites once to evaluate soil organic matter, microbial biomass, and potential net N mineralization and nitrification. Annual NO3– leaching ranged from 0.05 to 4.1 g N m–2 yr–1 and was higher in grass than forest plots, except in a very dry year and when a disturbed forest plot was included in the analysis. Nitrous oxide fluxes ranged from 0.05 to >0.3 g N m–2 yr–1, with few differences between grass and forest plots and markedly higher fluxes in wet years. Differences in NO3– leaching and N2O flux between forests and grasslands were not as high as expected given the higher frequency of disturbance and fertilization in the grasslands. Carbon dioxide flux, organic matter, and microbial biomass were as high or higher in urban grasslands than in forests, suggesting that active carbon cycling creates sinks for N in vegetation and soil in these ecosystems. Although urban grasslands export more N to the environment than native forests, they have considerable capacity for N retention that should be considered in evaluations of land-use change.