, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 197-229

First online:

Factors controlling concentration, export, and decomposition of dissolved organic nutrients in the Everglades of Florida

  • Robert G. QuallsAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental and Resource Sciences, University of Nevada
  • , Curtis J. RichardsonAffiliated withNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University

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Water draining from the Everglades marshes of southern Florida containshigh concentrations of dissolved organic C (DOC), N (DON), and in somelocations, P (DOP). These dissolved organic nutrients carry over 90% of the Nand organic C, and about 25% of the P exported downstream in the Everglades.Ourobjectives were to describe the most important aspects of the origin and fateofdissolved organic matter (DOM) in the Everglades, and to describe the processescontrolling its concentration and export. Concentrations of dissolved organicnutrients are influenced by local plant production, decomposition, and sorptionequilibrium with peat. The drained peat soils of the Everglades AgriculturalArea and the more productive marshes of the northern Everglades produce some ofthe highest concentrations of DOC and DON in the Everglades watershed. Inportions of the marshes of the northern Everglades, P enrichment was correlatedwith higher local DOC and DON concentrations and greater production of solubleplant matter. Microbial degradation of Everglades DOM was very slow; less than10% of the DOC was lost after 6 months of incubation in the laboratory andsupplements of inorganic nutrients failed to speed the decomposition. Exposureto solar radiation increased the subsequent decay rate of the remaining DOC(25%in 6 mo.). Solar radiation alone mineralized 20.5% of the DOC, 7%of the DON, and degraded about 50% of the humic substances over 21 days insterile porewater samples and thus degraded DOM faster than microbialdegradation. The humic substances appeared to inhibit biodegradation of theother fractions of the DOC since hydrophilic organic acids decomposed fasterwhen isolated from the humic substances.The fate of DOC and DON is closely linked as indicated by a generally narrowrange of C/N ratios. In contrast, high concentrations of DOP were associatedwith P enrichment (at least in pore water). The DOC was composed of about 50%humic substances, 33% hydrophilic acids, and 15% hydrophilic neutralsubstances,typical of DOC from other environments, despite the fact that it originatesfroma neutral to slightly alkaline peatland. Despite high exports of DON (3.9g m−2 y−1 from one area), themarshes of the northern Everglades are a sink for DON on a landscape scale. Theagricultural fields of the Everglades Agricultural Area, however, exported netquantities of DON. High concentrations of DOC desorbed from the agriculturalsoils when water with no DOC was added. Sorption experiments indicated thathighconcentrations of dissolved organic matter flowing into the marshes from theEverglades Agricultural Area could suppress the further desorption ofadditionalsoluble organic matter through physicochemical mechanisms. While biologicalfactors, plant production and microbial decomposition are important inproducingpotentially soluble organic nutrients, physicochemical sorption equilibria,hydrology, and degradation by solar radiation are also likely to control theexport of this material on the landscape scale.

Adsorption Biodegradation Carbon Decomposition Dissolved organic matter Everglades Humic substances Mineralization Nitrogen Nutrients Peat Phosphorus Photochemical Wetlands