Over the last years, climate variations have caused
unusual weather conditions in Europe . In recent
decades, an increase in average air temperature and a
decrease in precipitation have been observed in the
Pomerania and Wielkopolska regions of Poland. Moreover,
an increase in heavy rainfalls in the annual precipitation
balance has been noted . Rain squalls cause saturation of
the upper part of soils and an increase of flow through the
upper organic soil horizons . In forest ecosystems, the
input and output of essential nutrients are relatively small,
compared with their total amount cycled within the system
. However, the elements exported from wooded catch-
ments may affect the functioning of surface waters. Surface
runoff is one of the diffused sources of export of elements
and chemical substances to water bodies . With overland
flow, significant loads of nitrogen [6, 7], phosphorus [8, 9],
and organic matter [10, 11] can be transported from the
catchment to fresh water. The quality and quantity of sur-
face runoff waters depend on many factors. One of the most
important is the morphology of the catchment and the
degree of anthropopression. The most significant loads of
Pol. J. Environ. Stud. Vol. 20, No. 5 (2011), 1203-1210
Surface Runoff as a Factor Determining Trophic
State of Midforest Lake
Piotr Klimaszyk1*, Piotr Rzymski2**
1Department of Water Protection, A. Mickiewicz University,
Umultowska 89, 61-614 Poznań, Poland
2Department of Biology and Environmental Protection, University of Medical Sciences,
Długa 1/2, 61-848 Poznań, Poland
Received: 30 November 2010
Accepted: 12 April 2011
It is generally claimed that surface runoff in forested catchments is minimal and therefore nutrient flux-
es via runoff are unimportant. However, significant catchment slope inclination may promote overland water
flow and, therefore, surface runoff might be responsible for transferring important nutrient loads to the lake. It
was found that surface runoff waters within the catchment of Piaseczno Małe Lake have low pH (4.7-5.6),
brown colour (max. 240 mgPt·dm-3), and high concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (max. ca 100
mgC·dm-3) – a major component of humic acids. Moreover, considerably high concentrations of biogenic sub-
stances were noted. Compared to beech-growing areas, surface runoff from pine forests contained higher con-
centrations of organic carbon, but lower concentrations of biogenic substances – differences were statistically
significant. Similar tendencies were observed in the laboratory experiment. Moreover, the release of chemical
substances from forest litter was found to be rapid. The most significant increase in nitrogen and phosphorus
ions concentration and water colour and a decrease of pH were observed after the first hour of the experiment.
Fluctuations of the colour and pH of the lake water (with the most intense brown colour and the lowest pH of
the lake water observed in the periods of the highest rainfall and surface runoffs) indicate a significant role of
surface runoff in the determination of the dystrophic condition of Piaseczno Małe Lake.
Keywords: forest litter, nitrogen, phosphorus, humification, overland flow
nutrients are exported from agriculturally used catchments
[7, 12, 13]; as a result, surface runoff from agricultural land
is a contributor to accelerated eutrophication in lakes and
rivers . However, some studies show that forested
catchment can also be a source of significant loads of nutri-
ents . As the runoff from wooded catchments contains
large loads of organic matter [4, 16], it might be responsi-
ble for dystrophication of surface waters [3, 17].
An important factor controlling the quantity of the
exported chemical substances is the inclination of catch-
ment slopes: the more steep the slopes are, the greater
export of substances occurs . Mountain catchments
with steep slopes may export higher loads of nutrients than
lowland catchments . Moreover, the large inclination of
catchment slopes may contribute to the elution of upper lay-
ers of soil or forest litter into the lakes . The type of
phytocoenosis covering the catchment plays a fundamental
role in forming the physico-chemical properties of surface
runoff [21, 22].
The aim of our study was to estimate the overland trans-
fer of chemical substances from a wooded catchment, and
to determine the impact of phytocoenosis on the physico-
chemical properties of the surface runoff. We also attempt-
ed to find out whether surface runoff was responsible for
the dystrophic condition of Piaseczno Małe Lake.
Piaseczno Małe Lake is located in the eastern part of
Drawieński National Park with at latitude and longitude of
53º07,4’ N and 16º00,0’ E, respectively. It is a non-through-
flow lake with a relatively small surface area (8 ha) and
depth (mean 3.2 m, max 6.8 m) elevated 62 m a.s.l.
The lake shows visible signs of dystrophia. Its water is
characterized by low acidicity, high colour, and low con-
ductivity, as well as high concentrations of dissolved organ-
ic carbon (DOC), the main component of humid acids.
High concentrations of biogenic substances, nitrogen and
phosphorus, especially in subbottom waters, were found
. However, they seem to be complexed by humid acids
and are mostly unavailable for autotrophic organisms. In
the bottom area deoxidation is observed due to the intense
(yet slow, owing to low acidity) processes of decomposition
of organic matter. Taking into account the morphometric
features of the catchment area (large slope inclinations), it
seems that surface runoff is one of the major components of
the water balance of the studied lake. As Joniak and Kraska
 claim, the lower level of the groundwater in the basin
in relation to the water surface indicates a limited supply of
The Catchment Area
The catchment area of Piaseczno Małe covers 21.6 ha.
It is 2.7 times bigger than the lake’s surface. It is entirely
covered by forests. Eighty per cent of the area is covered
by scotch pine (Pinus silvestris L.), whereas the remain-
ing 20% is covered by European beech (Fagus sylvatica
L.). Coniferous and deciduous grown areas are clearly
The catchment area is dominated by podzolic soils.
Most of the catchment area is built of medium permeable
soils and gravel sands. An important feature determining
the strong influence of the catchment area on Piaseczno
Małe are the significant inclinations of the slopes (up to
40º), stimulating surface runoff and increasing the erosion
Overland flow was collected from two characteristic
points of the Piaseczno Małe catchment area. Station A was
located on a catchment slope mainly covered by pine, and
station B was located on a slope with a prevalence of beech.
At each station, two surface runoff water samplers were
installed. In 2006-07 the physicochemical properties of sur-
face runoff waters and lake waters were investigated. Water
samples were collected after each rain event and during
spring thaw. Simultaneously, samples of surface water from
the lake were analyzed. Meteorological data were collected
from Drawieński National Park meteorological station in
Rogoźnica, located 5 km from study site.
The investigated material consisting of forest litter was
collected from stations located near the runoff water sam-
plers, first on the slope covered by scotch pine, and then on
the slope with a prevalence of European beech. The litter
was collected from the surface of 1 m2and dried in a dark
place at a temperature of 20ºC. Afterward, 150 g samples of
pine and beech litter were placed in separate water tanks
and flooded with 20 dm3of distilled water of known para-
meters (pH=6.5; conductivity 2 µSm·cm-1; total N=0
mg·dm-3, total P=0 mg/dm-3DOC=0 mg·dm-3). For 10 days,
500 ml samples of water were collected and subjected to
further physicochemical analyses. On the first day, samples
were collected three times: after 1 h, 3 h, and after 6 h from
the start of the experiment. Acidity, conductivity and colour
of sampled water were measured and concentrations of
mineral nitrogen, total phosphorus, and orthophosphates
were investigated. The losses of water taken for analysis
were replenished with distilled water. Water in tanks was
constantly aerated with aquarium pumps during the whole
experimental period. The method was based on procedures
proposed by Zieliński et al. .
Analyses of the physicochemical properties of water
samples were made according to Standard Methods for the
Examination of Waters and Wastewaters (1992). Electrical
conductivity and pH of water were measured using YSI 556
Multiparameter Instrument. Determination of concentra-
tion of organic carbon was made using a SHIMAZU TOC
-5000 A analyzer.
1204Klimaszyk P., Rzymski P.
The results of our investigations confirm earlier data that
Piaseczno Małe Lake is a dystrophic reservoir. Its water is
characterized by low acidity (pH<6.5), low conductivity,
and brown color caused by high concentrations of dissolved
organic carbon (DOC). High concentrations of nitrogen and
phosphorus in lake waters were found (Table 1).
The characteristic features of the surface runoff occur-
ring in the Piaseczno Małe catchment included high con-
centrations of dissolved organic carbon (Table 2), an inten-
sive brown color, the acid reaction (pH<6.5), and low con-
ductivity (approximately 50 μSm·cm-1). Moreover, high
concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus were found in
overlandflow waters. Surface runoff waters contained
approximately 7 mg of total nitrogen (with a prevalence of
mineral nitrogen) and approximately 0.4 mg of total phos-
phorus per liter.
It was also found that the vegetation cover of the catch-
ment slopes had a significant influence on the physico-
chemical properties of surface runoff. Runoff from the
catchment covered by pine contained almost 30% higher
concentrations of ammonium nitrogen and about 40% high-
er concentrations of dissolved organic carbon, more inten-
sive brown colour, and lower pH and conductivity. On the
other hand, the waters of surface runoff occurring on the
slopes overgrown by beech had significantly higher con-
centrations of organic nitrogen and nitrates, orthophos-
phates and calcium. Mean concentration of total phospho-
rus in the surface runoff was approximately 20% higher at
station B, but the difference between the stations was sta-
tistically insignificant. For most of the analyzed parameters,
the differences between locations were statistically signifi-
cant (Table 2). We did not find any statistical correlations
between the intensity of precipitation (and, accordingly, the
intensity of surface runoff) and the dynamics of leaching of
chemical substances from the catchment by runoff.
However, the highest concentrations of chemical elements
and highest values of water parameters were recorded in
periods of increased runoff. Particularly high concentra-
tions of nitrogen, phosphorus and dissolved organic carbon
Surface Runoff as a Factor Determining...1205
Table 1. Mean values (±SE, n=18) of several physico-chemical
parameters in two thermal layers of Piaseczno Małe Lake.
Color [mgPt·dm-3] 25±1.9 64±0.6
Secchi depth [m] 2.6±0.5-
Nitrogen [mgN·dm-3] NH4
Orthophosphates [mgP·dm-3] 0.13±.0.010.18±0.01
Total phosphorus [mgP·dm-3]0.22±0.050.29±0.01
Table 2. Mean values (±SE, n=19) of selected physico-chemical parameters of surface runoff waters and statistical significance of the
differences between sampling stations – U Mann test.
ParameterUnit ConiferousDeciduous U-Mann test
n.s. –non significant, * - p<0.05, **- p<0.01, *** p<0.001
were observed in the surface runoff occurring during snow
melting. As far as organic nitrogen is concerned, the con-
centrations noted in the flowing water at both stations dur-
ing snow melting and heavy rainfalls increased by a factor
of two compared to average. In the periods of intensive
overland flow, the maximum concentrations of mineral
forms of nitrogen, total phosphorus, orthophosphates, and
dissolved organic carbon were also observed (Fig. 1). As far
as mineral nitrogen is concerned, the highest concentration
during intensive surface runoff was primarily evident at the
coniferous station. Concentrations reported here during the
melting of snowpack and heavy rainfall reached more than
11 mgN·dm-3, while the mean concentration during the
remaining part of the studied period was approximately 4
mgN·dm-3. Similar fluctuations of their concentrations were
recorded for both ammonium and nitrate. At station B, we
also reported high concentrations of mineral nitrogen during
the snow melt, although the increases were not as high as
those recorded at the coniferous station (Fig. 1). As far as
total phosphorus is concerned, the maximum concentrations
noted during the melting of snowpack or intensive rains
were nearly five times higher than average. Also, the high-
est concentrations of orthophosphates were observed in the
periods of increased runoff, amounting to 0.425 mgP·dm-3at
the coniferous station (during snow melting) and 0.56
mgP·dm-3at the deciduous station (after heavy rain).
Significant variations of the DOC concentration in surface
runoff were also noted. The maximal concentration of DOC
reached 101 mgC·dm-3at station A, and almost 78 mgC·dm-
3at station B during the snow melting, and the minimal – in
both locations of approximately 20 mgC·dm-3– in the sum-
mer. It was also recorded that the increase of organic carbon
concentration was accompanied by a decrease in the pH of
surface runoff waters and an increase in color.
The results of the laboratory experiments correspond
with the results of the surface runoff investigations. In the
case of all investigated parameters and both types of litter,
the most conspicuous changes were observed during the
first hours of the experiment (Fig. 2). However, pine and
beech litter affected the physicochemical properties of
water in different ways. Both of them strongly decreased
water acidity. Acidity was more decreased by pine litter (U
Mann test, p<0.001), the pH value in the range of 3.35-4.1.
Acidity of water with beech litter was in the range of pH
4.2-5.15. Fundamental differences were observed in con-
ductivity values. The conductivity of the water with beech
litter was twice as high as that of the water with pine litter.
Constant increase in the mineral nitrogen content was
observed both in the water with pine litter and in the water
with beech litter. Slightly higher values were leached from
beech litter. Nitrite ions had the least participation, ammo-
nia ions – the highest. Statistically more nitrate ions (U
Mann test, p<0.05) were leached from pine litter.
Statistically more nitrite ions (U Mann test, p<0.001) were
leached from beech litter. Ammonia ions were released
faster from beech litter. Statistically significant differences
were observed in total phosphorus release. The highest val-
ues were leached from beech litter (U Mann test, p<0.001).
Higher concentrations of DOC were observed in the water
with pine litter, which was followed by higher values of
water color – mean 207 mgPt·dm3for coniferous litter –
mean 138 mgPt·dm3for deciduous litter. However, the
highest concentrations of dissolved organic carbon were
noted after 48 hours of litter immersion, and subsequently
(particularly in the case of pine liter) the concentrations of
DOC slightly decreased (Fig. 2). Based on the obtained
results, it was calculated that during the experiment, one
gram of coniferous litter released into the water over 7 mg
of organic carbon, nearly 0.3 mg of mineral nitrogen and a
little more than 0.01 mg of phosphorus. By contrast, beech
litter released smaller amounts of organic carbon but
greater amounts of biogenic substances (Table 3).
Upon analysis of the dynamics of physicochemical
properties of waters of Lake Piaseczno Małe, we noted that
the highest concentrations of dissolved organic carbon
(25.2 mgC·dm-3against the annual average of 14.6 C·dm-3)
and the most intensive brown color of water (42 mgPt·dm-3
against the annual average of 25 mgPt·dm-3) occurred after
periods of increased surface runoff. Similar fluctuations
were found for the pH of lake water – after intense rainfall,
1206Klimaszyk P., Rzymski P.
Fig. 1. Monthly variation in nutrient concentration in the sur-
face runoff from Piaseczno Małe Lake catchment (A – organic
nitrogen, B – mineral nitrogen, C – total phosphorus).
snow melting heavy rainfall snow melting
the epilimnic water pH value fell below 6.5. We found a sta-
tistically significant negative correlation between the inten-
sity of precipitation and hence surface runoff, and epilimnic
water acidity (r=-0.77, p<0.05). In periods of increased
runoff we observed increased concentrations of biogenic
elements in the epilimnic waters of the lake.
Although overland flow is an episodic phenomenon, it
may be an important part of the water balance of a water
We noticed that the runoff waters were characterized by
high concentrations of dissolved organic carbon. Upon
comparison of the results from the sampling stations, we
noted that surface runoff from pine forest contained higher
concentrations of organic carbon than the runoff from
beech forest, and the difference was statistically significant.
Higher concentrations of organic carbon in the surface
runoff from coniferous locations compared with that from
deciduous locations have been previously observed [17,
24]. Those observations were confirmed by the results of
the laboratory experiment - significantly higher concentra-
tions of DOC were leached from pine litter. Zieliński et al.
 and Hongve  observed higher concentrations of
Surface Runoff as a Factor Determining...1207
0136 244872 96 120 144 168 192 216
0136 24 4872 96 120 144 168 192 216
El. conductivity [μSm cm-1]
0136 24 4872 96 120 144 168 192 216
Mineral nitrogen [mgN dm-3]
0136 2448 7296 120 144 168 192 216
DOC [mgC dm-3]
0136 2448 7296 120 144 168 192 216
Total phosphorus [mgP dm-3]
0136 24 48 7296 120 144 168 192 216
Ortophosphates [mgPO4 dm-3]
Fig. 2. Changes of acidity, conductivity, mineral nitrogen, dissolved organic carbon, total phosphorus, and orthophosphate values in
water with pine and beech litter. (white blocks – coniferous litter, black blocks – deciduous litter.
DOC from deciduous litter. On the other hand, Strobel et al.
 noted larger participation of DOC in surface parts of
soils overgrown by coniferous species. The reason underly-
ing those differences seems to be the different species of
deciduous and coniferous trees taken into consideration by
Zielinski, and different methods used by Hongve. Seasonal
dynamics of DOC elution by the surface runoff shows sig-
nificant peaks during snowmelt and intensive rainfalls. Such
fluctuations have already been recorded in earlier investiga-
tions [10, 16, 21]. High concentrations of DOC have direct-
ly contributed to high values of water colour and a decrease
in water pH. Concentrations of DOC noted in overland flow
have been comparable to the content of DOC in the high and
transitional bog waters , which are regarded as the main
source of DOC incoming to the freshwaters and as the main
factor contributing to lake dystrophication . Therefore,
we are of the opinion that the surface runoff from wooded
catchment is a factor underlying humification of Lake
Piaseczno Małe. This can be supported by the fact that we
found strong negative correlation between precipitation and
runoff, and acidity of the waters of Piaseczno Małe.
Moreover, we noted that in periods following intense surface
runoff the lake water had the highest concentration of DOC
and the most intensive brown color. Such an impact of the
surface runoff on chemical and physical properties of lake
waters has been observed on other small humic lakes .
Concentrations of biogenic elements N and P, transport-
ed with the runoff from the investigated catchment were
relatively high (Table 3) and exceeded the values recorded
for most Polish forests and even agricultural-forest catch-
ments. It seems that this may be caused by the inclination
of steep slopes, which promotes water erosion .
Nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the surface
runoff from forest catchments similar to those determined
in our investigations have been recorded by Miller et al.
. The major factor affecting the concentration of bio-
genic elements in the surface runoff waters was the intensi-
ty of precipitation and runoff. The highest concentrations of
nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff waters were observed
after gusty rain and especially during snow melt. The high-
est concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus in overland
flow during snowmelt have been observed by Lewis et al.
 and Sickman et al. . As proposed by Fitzhugh et al.
, the reason for this trend may be the fact that soil freez-
ing events may increase the rates of N and P loss, with
potential effects on soil N and P availability, ecosystem pro-
ductivity, and surface eutrophication.
We also found that the contents of nitrogen and phos-
phorus in surface runoff were significantly different
between the stations. Runoff waters from the slopes cov-
ered by beech were characterized by approximately 50%
higher concentration of total nitrogen than the water from
the slopes with a prevalence of pine. At station B, we found
higher concentrations of nitrate nitrogen (about 60%) and
organic nitrogen (about 40%). By contrast, amonium nitro-
gen was 40% higher on the slope overgrown by pine. The
significant differences in the share of NH4and NO3in the
total pool of mineral nitrogen at the investigated stations
can be explained by the differences in the acidity of runoff
water. Increased acidity of water on the slope with the
prevalence of pine reduces the oxidation of ammonia, due
to the limitation of the activity of nitrifying bacteria .
Unlike in the case of the slope with coniferous trees (station
A), water flowing down a slope overgrown by deciduous
trees (station B) also contained higher amounts of phos-
phorus. Especially large, statistically significant differences
(Table 3) of approximately 25% were found in the concen-
trations of dissolved reactive phosphorus. Swank  has
obtained very similar results as regards the participation of
various forms of nitrogen in surface runoff from deciduous
and coniferous forests. Zielinski  has also noted that the
coniferous litter releases larger quantities of ammonium
nitrogen in comparison with deciduous litter. The results of
the laboratory experiment showed that beech litter enriched
the water with considerably higher values of biogenic com-
pounds: total nitrogen and phosphorus. Lower concentra-
tions of nitrogen and phosphorus found in surface runoff on
the slopes covered with pine are probably associated with a
small pool of those elements in pine detritus. This species
withdraws a large part of the chemicals from the needles
before they fall down . According to Malkonen ,
the concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as of
the majority of other ions in the needles, decreases even
tenfold before they fall down. This phenomenon may also
explain the lower electrolytic conductivity of runoff water
found on slopes overgrown by pine (Fig. 1).
Blowing out of plant detritus or washing out of forest lit-
ter during heavy rainfalls can also deliver considerable loads
of nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon to the lake water. During
investigations, significant biomass of forest detritus lining the
bottom in the littoral zone of Piaseczno Małe was observed
(unpublished data). It was noted that the leaching of chemi-
cal substances from litters was very fast. This finding is con-
tradictory to the results of numerous studies [4, 21], where
the authors have observed a relatively slow release of nutri-
ents from plant detritus. However, in those studies the
authors have used fresh plant detritus, which slowly releases
nutrients and other elements during gradual decomposition.
In fact, chemical compounds in the forest floor leachate are
derived not only from recent litter but also from older organ-
ic matter in the lower forest floor horizons .
1208Klimaszyk P., Rzymski P.
Table 3. Release of chemical substances from 1 g of investigat-
ed forest litters.
mg N 0.1970.245
mg N 0.00066 0.01
mg P 0.006 0.019
DOC mg C 7.65.3
• Surface runoff from wooded catchments is an important
factor affecting the trophic state of the investigated
water body. Overland flow supplies water bodies with
large loads of nutrients and organic matter.
The quality of the surface runoff depends on the plants
covering the catchment. Runoff from coniferous forests
is characterized by higher concentrations of dissolved
organic carbon, while runoff from deciduous forests is
richer in biogenic elements.
In cases of blowing or flushing of forest detritus, it may
be an important source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and
organic matter for the lake. The release of chemical
compounds from forest litter is rapid.
The present work was financed by the Ministry of
Education and Science Grant NN305 100435
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