Douglas-fir plantations impact stream and groundwater chemistry in western Europe: Insights from three case studies in France and Luxembourg


Paul A., Hissler C., Florio A., Didier S., Pollier B., van der Heijden G., Dambrine E., Ranger J., Zeller B., Legout A.


Environmental Pollution, vol. 336, art. no. 122477, 2023


In rural areas, nitrate concentrations in surface waters most often originate from the leaching of excess N fertilizer in agricultural lands, whereas forested catchments often have good water quality. However, Douglas-fir plantations may induce nitrogen cycle unbalances which may lead to an excess of nitrate production in the soil. We hypothesize that the excess of production of nitrate in the soil and nitrate leaching to streamwater is greater in catchments planted with Douglas fir. We used paired catchments in both France and Luxembourg with different land covers (Douglas-fir, Spruce, Deciduous, Grassland and clearcut) which were monitored over a 3–5 year period in order to assess the effect of Douglas-fir plantations on the chemical composition of surface water. Nitrate concentration in the soil and groundwater were also monitored. The results show that nitrate concentrations in streams draining Douglas-fir catchments were two to ten times higher than in streams draining other land covers, but were similar to the clearcut catchment. Nitrate concentrations under Douglas-fir in groundwater (up to 50 mg L−1) and in the soil were also higher than under all other land covers. Soil nitrate concentration was related to stream nitrate concentration. This suggests that soil processes, through excessive nitrate production under Douglas-fir, are driving the nitrate concentration in the stream water and our hypothesis of a transfer of a fairly large proportion of this excessive production from the soil to the stream is supported. This study also shows that nitrate concentrations in surface and ground waters in rural areas could also originate from Douglas fir forested catchments. The impact of Douglas-fir is nevertheless reduced downstream through a dilution effect: mixing tree species at the catchment scale could thus be a solution to mitigate the effect of Douglas-fir on nitrate concentration in surface waters.



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