Dynamics of nitrogen and phosphorus retention during wetland ecosystem succession
- Cite this article as:
- Craft, C.B. Wetlands Ecol Manage (1996) 4: 177. doi:10.1007/BF01879236
We compared the mechanisms of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) removal in four young (<15 years old) constructed estuarine marshes with paired mature natural marshes to determine how nutrient retention changes during wetland ecosystem succession. In constructed wetlands, N retention begins as soon as emergent vegetation becomes established and soil organic matter starts to accumulate, which is usually within the first 1–3 years. Accumulation of organic carbon in the soil sets the stage for denitrification which, after 5–10 years, removes approximately the same amount of N as accumulating organic matter, 5–10 g/m2/yr each, under conditions of low N loadings. Under high N loadings, the amount of N stored in accumulating organic matter doubles while N removal from denitrification may increase by an order of magnitude or more. Both organic N accumulation and denitrification provide for long-term reliable N removal regardless of N loading rates. Phosphorus removal, on the other hand, is greatest during the first 1–3 years of succession when sediment deposition and sorption/precipitation of P are greatest. During this time, constructed marshes may retain from 3 g P/m2/yr under low P loadings to as much as 30 g P/m2/yr under high loadings. However, as sedimentation decreases and sorption sites become saturated, P retention decreases to levels supported by organic P accumulation (1–2 g P/m2/yr) and sorption/precipitation with incoming aqueous and particulate Fe, Al and Ca. Phosphorus cycling in wetlands differs from forest and other terrestrial ecosystems in that conservation of P is greatest during the early years of succession, not during the middle or late stages. Conservation of P by wetlands is largely regulated by geochemical processes (sorption, precipitation) which operate independently of succession. In contrast, the conservation of N is controlled by biological processes (organic matter accumulation, denitrification) that change as succession proceeds.