Marine Biology

, Volume 101, Issue 4, pp 471–481 | Cite as

Decomposition and microbial dynamics for standing, naturally positioned leaves of the salt-marsh grass Spartina alterniflora

  • S. Y. Newell
  • R. D. Fallon
  • J. D. Miller


Decomposition of leaves of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora Loisel.) was monitored for two cohorts of leaves from September 1984 to May 1985 (autumn and winterspring) at Sapelo Island (31°23′ N; 81°17′ W). The leaves were tagged in plance at the ligule, rather than cut and placed in litterbags. Dead leaves were not abscised from shoots. Loss of organic mass from the attached leaves was at least 60 to 68% of the orginal values. Fungal mass, as measured by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, formed > 98% of the microbial standing crops in two of three autumn samples, and in all samples for the colder, drier, winterspring cohort. Fungal mass was probably mostly in the form of the mycelium and pseudothecia of an ascomycete, Phaeosphaeria typharum (Desm.) Holm. Fungal dominance of microbial standing crops declined when autumn leaves bent downward and acquired a large sediment content (ash=35% of dry matter); the bacterial crop then rose to 7% of the total microbial crop. Microphotoautotrophic mass was always measurable, but was never more than 2% of the microbial crop. Carbon-dioxide fixation was much lower than carbon-dioxide release, and a substantial portion of the fixation may have been anaplerotic fungal fixation. Threeto 8 wk net fungal productivity (average per day) was much greater (16 to 26 times) than measured instantaneous bacterial productivity (extrapolated to per-day values) early in each decay period. Fungal productivity was negative late in the decay period. Fungal productivity was negative late in the decay period for autumn leaves, and was approximately equal to bacterial productivity late for winter-spring leaves. Net nitrogen immobilization was observed only late in the decay period for autumn leaves, implying that nearly all dead-leaf nitrogen was scavenged into fungal mass after the first sampling interval. Flux estimates for dead-leaf carbon indicated a flow of 11–15% of the original to fungal mass, 2% to bacterial mass, 15–21% to carbon dioxide, 10–12% to dissolved leachage, and 34–36% to small particles; 32–39% remained attached as shreds at the end of the study periods. Salt-marsh periwinkles (Littorina irrorata Say) appeared to be the major shredders of dead leaves and conveyors of leaf-particulate material to the marsh sediment, at least in those parts of the marsh where the snails are densely concentrated (usually areas of short- and intermediateheight cordgrass shoots).


Bacterial Productivity Dead Leaf Marsh Sediment Sediment Content Spartina Alterniflora 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Y. Newell
    • 1
  • R. D. Fallon
    • 2
  • J. D. Miller
    • 3
  1. 1.University of Georgia Marine InstituteSapelo IslandUSA
  2. 2.Haskell LaboratoryDuPont CompanyNewarkUSA
  3. 3.Plant Research Centre, Research BranchAgiculture CanadaOttawaCanada

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