Iowa State University, USDA research article named best paper of 2021 by Journal of Environmental Quality

September 21, 2021

Saturated riparian buffer research site along Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa, showing the control box and monitoring equipment. Photo by Dan Jaynes.

AMES, Iowa — A research article by Iowa State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists has received the 2021 Best Paper Award from the “Journal of Environmental Quality.” The award, announced Sept. 16, recognizes the top scientific paper from the last two years.

The article, “In Situ Denitrification in Saturated Riparian Buffers,” published in March 2019, was authored by Tyler Groh ('18 PhD environmental science), assistant research professor of ecosystem science and management, Penn State; Morgan Davis ('18 PhD environmental science), assistant professor of soil and environmental sciences, University of Missouri; Thomas Isenhart, professor, natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State; and Dan Jaynes and Timothy Parkin, both USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists (retired).

The award selection was based on how the manuscript advanced knowledge in the environmental sciences, effectiveness of communication, originality and impact as measured by the number of citations and downloads. JEQ, as it is widely known, is published by American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America.

Core findings from the project presented in the paper included:

  • Denitrification rates were highly variable, accounting for 3.7 to 77.3% of nitrate removal within saturated riparian buffers;
  • Soil surface horizons had a greater denitrification rate than deeper horizons;
  • Denitrification appeared to increase with buffer age, as the researchers hypothesized;
  • A higher water table led to greater nitrate removal through denitrification; and
  • The saturation status of a buffer did not significantly affect denitrification rates.

The study reported in the winning article was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University.

“It is great to see this study receive this level of recognition by such a prestigious journal,” said Matt Helmers, INRC director. “We are proud that the INRC has been able to help support this important research and pleased that the practice is gaining widespread interest as a new conservation practice in Iowa and elsewhere.”


Tom Isenhart, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, 515-294-8056,
Tyler Groh, Penn State Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, 814-865-6726,
Matt Helmers, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, 515-294-6717,

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