Oviedo-Vargas D., and T.V. Royer. 2015. Journal of Environmental Quality 44(2):668–675.
Agricultural activities have heavily altered the nitrogen (N) cycle in stream ecosystems draining croplands, particularly in the midwestern United States. However, our knowledge about dissolved organic N (DON) biogeochemistry in agricultural ecosystems is limited. From January 2011 to June 2012, we investigated DON dynamics in an agricultural headwater stream in the midwestern United States. We quantified the contribution of DON to the total dissolved N (TDN) pool and examined the role of DON as a source of N for microbial metabolism. For this we measured N-acquiring enzyme activities (aminopeptidases) and whole-stream DON uptake through short-term releases of amino acids. To investigate potential coupling between the N and C cycles occurring via simultaneous uptake of these two elements during assimilation of amino acids, seven of the short-term releases were performed concurrently with acetate. We found minimal contribution of DON to the TDN pool in this stream as a result of high concentrations of nitrate. Acetate uptake suggested that C was a limiting factor for microbial metabolism in this stream. In contrast, we were not able to detect amino acid uptake during any of the 13 short-term releases we conducted, likely as a result of high availability of dissolved inorganic N. Aminopeptidase (AMP) activity did not reflect N demand. Large spatial variability in AMP was observed within and among sites, possibly as result of physicochemical characteristics of the sediments. In contrast to other human-dominated streams, DON appeared to play a minor role in microbial metabolic processes and contributed minimally to the N pool of the study stream.