State factor relationships of dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen losses from unpolluted temperate forest watersheds

Steven S. Perakis, Lars O. Hedin

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29 Scopus citations


We sampled 100 unpolluted, old-growth forested watersheds, divided among 13 separate study areas over 5 years in temperate southern Chile and Argentina, to evaluate relationships among dominant soil-forming state factors and dissolved carbon and nitrogen concentrations in watershed streams. These watersheds provide a unique opportunity to examine broad-scale controls over carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) biogeochemistry in the absence of significant human disturbance from chronic N deposition and land use change. Variations in the ratio dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to nitrogen (DON) in watershed streams differed by underlying soil parent material, with average C:N = 29 for watersheds underlain by volcanic ash and basalt versus C:N = 73 for sedimentary and metamorphic parent materials, consistent with stronger adsorption of low C:N hydrophobic materials by amorphous clays commonly associated with volcanic ash and basalt weathering. Mean annual precipitation was related positively to variations in both DOC (range: 0.2-9.7 mg C/L) and DON (range: 0.008-0.135 mg N/L) across study areas, suggesting that variations in water volume and concentration may act synergistically to influence C and N losses across dry to wet gradients in these forest ecosystems. Dominance of vegetation by broadleaf versus coniferous trees had negligible effects on organic C and N concentrations in comparison to abiotic factors. We conclude that precipitation volume and soil parent material are important controls over chemical losses of dissolved organic C and N from unpolluted temperate forest watersheds. Our results raise the possibility that biotic imprints on watershed C and N losses may be less pronounced in naturally N-poor forests than in areas impacted by land use change and chronic N deposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberG02010
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 28 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology


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