Multipurpose Oxbows as a Nitrate Export Reduction Practice in the Agricultural Midwest

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2019-11-21
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Schilling, Keith
Wilke, Karen
Kult, Keegan
Kenny, Aleshia
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Pierce, Clay
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Natural Resource Ecology and Management
The Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management is dedicated to the understanding, effective management, and sustainable use of our renewable natural resources through the land-grant missions of teaching, research, and extension.
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Nutrient export from the agricultural US Midwest influences streams and rivers and contributes to the development of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Oxbows are natural waterbodies formed when a river cuts off a meander loop as it migrates within its floodplain. Creation of multipurpose oxbows by restoration of former oxbows can potentially reduce export of nitrate-nitrogen (nitrate) from agricultural land as well as provide important habitat for many species, including the endangered Topeka shiner. Recent studies of nitrate export reduction by oxbows in Iowa are encouraging, demonstrating a 45% reduction in nitrate export of water entering oxbows from subsurface tiles compared with water discharged to the adjacent stream. Oxbow restorations are as effective as several other nutrient reduction practices, are relatively inexpensive, last for decades if not centuries, remove little or no land from agricultural production, and provide significant ecosystem services. Multipurpose oxbows are a promising new best management practice for reducing nitrate export from agricultural lands.

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This article is published as Schilling, K. E., K. Wilke, C. L. Pierce, K. Kult, and A. Kenny. 2019. Multipurpose Oxbows as a Nitrate Export Reduction Practice in the Agricultural Midwest. Agric. Environ. Lett. 4:190035. doi:10.2134/ael2019.09.0035.

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