, Volume 569, Issue 1, pp 87-97

The contribution of leaching to the rapid release of nutrients and carbon in the early decay of wetland vegetation

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Abstract

Our goal was to quantify the coupled process of litter turnover and leaching as a source of nutrients and fixed carbon in oligotrophic, nutrient-limited wetlands. We conducted poisoned and non-poisoned incubations of leaf material from four different perennial wetland plants (Eleocharis spp., Cladium jamaicense, Rhizophora mangle and Spartina alterniflora) collected from different oligotrophic freshwater and estuarine wetland settings. Total phosphorus (TP) release from the P-limited Everglades plant species (Eleocharis spp., C. jamaicense and R. mangle) was much lower than TP release by the salt marsh plant S. alterniflora from N-limited North Inlet (SC). For most species and sampling times, total organic carbon (TOC) and TP leaching losses were much greater in poisoned than non-poisoned treatments, likely as a result of epiphytic microbial activity. Therefore, a substantial portion of the C and P leached from these wetland plant species was bio-available to microbial communities. Even the microbes associated with S. alterniflora from N-limited North Inlet showed indications of P-limitation early in the leaching process, as P was removed from the water column. Leaves of R. mangle released much more TOC per gram of litter than the other species, likely contributing to the greater waterborne [DOC] observed by others in the mangrove ecotone of Everglades National Park. Between the two freshwater Everglades plants, C. jamaicense leached nearly twice as much P than Eleocharis spp. In scaling this to the landscape level, our observed leaching losses combined with higher litter production of C. jamaicense compared to Eleocharis spp. resulted in a substantially greater P leaching from plant litter to the water column and epiphytic microbes. In conclusion, leaching of fresh plant litter can be an important autochthonous source of nutrients in freshwater and estuarine wetland ecosystems.