We investigated the seasonal patterns of denitrification rates and potentials in soil profiles along the topohydrosequence formed at the upland-wetland interface in three riparian wetlands with different vegetation cover (i.e., forest, understory vegetation, and grass). Denitrification was measured using the acetylene inhibition method on soil cores and slurries, which provided a means of comparing the relative activity of this process in different locations. We evaluated, on a seasonal basis, the respective importance of the vegetative cover and the hydromorphic gradient as factors limiting denitrification. Regardless of the season, vegetation type, or lateral position along each topohydrosequence in the riparian wetlands, strong significant gradients of both in situ and potential denitrification rates were measured within a soil profile. Results confirm that the upper organic soil horizon is the most active, when in contact with the ground water. In deeper soil horizons, denitrification activity was low (from 0.004 to 0.5 mg N kg(-1) dry soil d(-1)), but contributed significantly to the reduction of ground water NO(3)(-) load along the riparian ground water flowpath (front 9.32 to 0.98 mg NO(3)-N L(-1)). Along the soil topohydrosequence, the denitrifying community of the upper soil horizons did not vary significantly on a seasonal basis despite the large seasonal ground water fluctuations. Along each topohydrosequence, the denitrification-limiting factor gradually shifted front anaerobiosis to NO(3)(-) supply. In situ denitrification rates in the forested, understory vegetation and grass sites were not significantly different. This result emphasizes the importance of the topography of the valley rather than the vegetation cover in controlling denitrification activity in riparian wetlands.
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