, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 548-564

First online:

Sources and transformations of organic matter in surface soils and sediments from a tidal estuary (North Inlet, South Carolina, USA)

  • Miguel A. GoñiAffiliated withDepartment of Geological Sciences Earch Water Sciences Building 302, University of South Carolina Email author 
  • , Kimberly A. ThomasAffiliated withMarine Sciences Program, University of South Carolina

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Surface soil and sediment samples collected along a forest-brackish marsh-salt marsh transect in a southeastern U.S. estuary were separated into three different fractions (sand, macro-organic matter, and humus) based on size and density. Elemental, stable carbon isotope, and lignin analyses of these samples reveal important contrasts in the quantity, composition, and sources of organic matter, between forest and marsh sites. Elevated nitrogen contents in humus samples suggest nitrogen incorporation during humification is most extensive in forest soils relative to the marsh sites. The lignin compositions of the macro-organic and humus samples reflect the predominant type of vegetation at each site. Lignin phenol ratios indicate that woody and nonwoody litter from, gymnosperm and angiosperms trees (pines and oaks) is the major source of vascular plant-derived organic matter in the forest site and that angiosperm, grasses (Juncus andSpartina) are the major sources of lignin at the marsh sites. The phenol distributions also reveal that oxidative degradation of lignin is most extensive in the forest and brackish marsh zones whereas little lignin decay occurs in the salt marsh samples. In forest soils, most organic matter originates from highly altered forest vegetation while at the brackish marsh site organic matter is a mixture of degradedJuncus materials and microbial/algal remains. Organic matter in the salt marsh appears to be composed of a more complex mixture of sources, including degradedSpartina detritus as well as algal and microbial inputs. Microbial methane oxidation appears to be an important process and a source of13C depleted organic carbon in subsurface sediments at this site.