Estuaries

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 909–922 | Cite as

Nitrogen cycling and ecosystem exchanges in a Virginia tidal freshwater marsh

  • Scott C. Neubauer
  • Iris C. Anderson
  • Betty B. Neikirk
Article

Abstract

Tidal freshwater marshes are diverse habitats that differ both within and between marshes in terms of plant community composition, sediment type, marsh elevation, and nutrient status. Because our knowledge of the nitrogen (N) biogeochemistry of tidal freshwater systems is limited, it is difficult to assess how these marshes will respond to long-term progressive nutrient loading due to watershed development and urbanization. We present a process-based mass balance model of N cycling in Sweet Hall marsh, a pristine (i.e., low nutrient)Peltandra virginica-Pontederia cordata dominated tidal freshwater marsh in the York River estuary, Virginia. The model, which was based on a combination of field and literature data, revealed that N cycling in the system was largely conservative. The mineralization of organic N to NH4 + provided almost twice as much inorganic N as was needed to support marsh macrophyte and benthic microalgal primary production. Efficient utilization of porewater NH4 + by nitrifiers and other microbes resulted in low rates of tidal NH4 + export from the marsh and little accumulation of NH4 + in marsh porewaters. Inputs of N from the estuary and atmosphere were not critical in supporting marsh primary production, and served to balance N losses due to denitrification and burial. A comparison of these results with the literature suggests that the relative importance of tidal freshwater marsh N cycling processes, including plant productivity, organic matter mineralization, microbial immobilization, and coupled nitrification-denitrification, are largely independent of small changes in water column N loading. Although very high (millimolar) concentrations of dissolved inorganic N can affect processes including denitrification and plant productivity, the factors that cause the switch from efficient N recycling to a more open N cycle have not yet been identified.

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Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott C. Neubauer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Iris C. Anderson
    • 1
  • Betty B. Neikirk
    • 1
  1. 1.College of William and Mary, School of Marine ScienceVirginia Institute of Marine ScienceGloucester Point
  2. 2.Department of BiologyVillanova UniversityVillanova

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