Previous studies have evaluated how changes in atmospheric nitrogen (N) inputs and climate affect stream N concentrations and fluxes, but none have synthesized data from sites around the globe. We identified variables controlling stream inorganic N concentrations and fluxes, and how they have changed, by synthesizing 20 time series ranging from 5 to 51 years of data collected from forest and grassland dominated watersheds across Europe, North America, and East Asia and across four climate types (tropical, temperate, Mediterranean, and boreal) using the International Long-Term Ecological Research Network. We hypothesized that sites with greater atmospheric N deposition have greater stream N export rates, but that climate has taken a stronger role as atmospheric deposition declines in many regions of the globe. We found declining trends in bulk ammonium and nitrate deposition, especially in the longest time-series, with ammonium contributing relatively more to atmospheric N deposition over time. Among sites, there were statistically significant positive relationships between (1) annual rates of precipitation and stream ammonium and nitrate fluxes and (2) annual rates of atmospheric N inputs and stream nitrate concentrations and fluxes. There were no significant relationships between air temperature and stream N export. Our long-term data shows that although N deposition is declining over time, atmospheric N inputs and precipitation remain important predictors for inorganic N exported from forested and grassland watersheds. Overall, we also demonstrate that long-term monitoring provides understanding of ecosystems and biogeochemical cycling that would not be possible with short-term studies alone.
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