Effects of Forest Cutting and Herbicide Treatment on Nutrient Budgets in the Hubbard Brook Watershed-Ecosystem

TitleEffects of Forest Cutting and Herbicide Treatment on Nutrient Budgets in the Hubbard Brook Watershed-Ecosystem
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1970
AuthorsLikens, GE, F. Bormann, H, Johnson, NM, Fisher, DW, Pierce, RS
JournalEcological Monographs
Pagination23 - 47
Date Published1970/02/01/
ISBN Number1557-7015

All vegetation on Watershed 2 of the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest was cut during November and December of 1965, and vegetation regrowth was inhibited for two years by periodic application of herbicides. Annual stream—flow was increased 33 cm or 39% the first year and 27 cm or 28% the second year above the values expected if the watershed were not deforested. Large increases in streamwater concentration were observed for all major ions, except NH4+, SO4 = and HCO3—, approximately five months after the deforestation. Nitrate concentrations were 41—fold higher than the undisturbed condition the first year and 56—fold higher the second. The nitrate concentration in stream water has exceeded, almost continuously, the health levels recommended for drinking water. Sulfate was the only major ion in stream water that decreased in concentration after deforestation. An inverse relationship between sulfate and nitrate concentrations in stream water was observed in both undisturbed and deforested situations. Average streamwater concentrations increased by 417% for Ca++, 408% for Mg++, 1558% for K+ and 177% for Na+ during the two years subsequent to deforestation. Budgetary net losses from Watershed 2 in kg/ha—yr were about 142 for NO3—N, 90 for Ca++, 36 for K+, 32 for SiO2—Si, 24 for Al+++, 18 for Mg++, 17 for Na+, 4 for Cl—, and 0 for SO4—S during 1967—68; whereas for an adjacent, undisturbed watershed (W6) net losses were 9.2 for Ca++, 1.6 for K+, 17 for SiO2—Si, 3.1 for A1+++, 2.6 for Mg++, 7.0 for Na+, 0.1 for C1—, and 3.3 for SO4—S. Input of nitrate—nitrogen in precipitation normally exceeds the output in drainage water in the undisturbed ecosystems, and ammonium—nitrogen likewise accumulates in both the undisturbed and deforested ecosystems. Total gross export of dissolved solids, exclusive of organic matter, was about 75 metric tons/km2 in 1966—67, and 97 metric tons/km2 in 1967—68, or about 6 to 8 times greater than would be expected for an undisturbed watershed. The greatly increased export of dissolved nutrients from the deforested ecosystem was due to an alteration of the nitrogen cycle within the ecosystem. The drainage streams tributary to Hubbard Brook are normally acid, and as a result of deforestation the hydrogen ion content increased by 5—fold (from pH 5.1 to 4.3). Streamwater temperatures after deforestation were higher than the undisturbed condition during both summer and winter. Also in contrast to the relatively constant temperature in the undisturbed streams, streamwater temperature after deforestation fluctuated 3—4°C during the day in summer. Electrical conductivity increased about 6—fold in the stream water after deforestation and was much more variable. Increased streamwater turbidity as a result of the deforestation was negligible, however the particulate matter output was increased about 4—fold. Whereas the particulate matter is normally 50% inorganic materials, after deforestation preliminary estimates indicate that the proportion of inorganic materials increased to 76% of the total particulates. Supersaturation of dissolved oxygen in stream water from the experimental watersheds is common in all seasons except summer when stream discharge is low. The percent saturation is dependent upon flow rate in the streams. Sulfate, hydrogen ion and nitrate are major constituents in the precipitation. It is suggested that the increase in average nitrate concentration in precipitation compared to data from 1955—56,as well as the consistent annual increase observed from 1964 to 1968, may be some measure of a general increase in air pollution.