, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 63-79

The effect of phosphorus enrichment on the nutrient status of a northern Everglades slough

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The response of wetlands to elevated nutrient loads typically has been examined in the context of using wetlands for nutrient removal. However, concern over the degradation of natural wetlands following anthropogenic disturbance continues to increase. Most research has focussed on the response of emergent wetlands, with an emphasis on the role of macrophytes. In this study, 21 1.8 m2 enclosures (mesocosms) were placed in a pristine open-water (slough) wetland and subjected to 7 inorganic phosphorus (P) loads; 0, 0.4, 0.8, 1.6, 3.2, 6.4, and 12.8 g/m2/y. This study demonstrated that while the rate of specific P accumulation was a function of the loading rate, the duration of loading is a critical factor in the ultimate P concentration in the biota and soil. Thus, time is an important consideration when determining response to enrichment. Phosphorus added to the slough was removed rapidly by the initially abundant metaphyton (unattached floating and suspended periphyton) and epipelon (benthic periphyton), which concentrated P 10- to 50-fold above background periphyton concentrations. Metaphyton concentrated P more rapidly than epipelon; however, both assemblages stabilized P concentrations between 2.6–3.0 g/kg. Water lily responded to elevated P loads with increased leaf size and nutrient accumulation. After 2-y, water lily P concentrations in the highest loaded mesocosms were similar to those observed in periphyton. Soil and porewater nutrients were slower to respond to P enrichment. Soil P concentrations were unchanged by P enrichment except for the highest loaded mesocosms. After 1-y of P loading, mesocosms receiving 12.8 g/m2/y had soil P concentrations almost 2-fold higher than background concentrations. Porewater P concentrations also showed little change throughout the experiment, with the exception of load 12.8 g/m2/y, which increased dramatically after the 1st year. During the 2nd year, average porewater P concentrations in this highest load were over 50-fold higher than background concentrations. Nitrogen concentrations in periphyton and water lily also generally increased in response to increased P loads. The high affinity of periphyton and water lily for P, combined with their subsequent influence on N uptake, suggests that these components can play an important role in wetland nutrient cycling. The disappearance of these communities may result in a reduction in the nutrient assimilative capacity of wetlands.