Changes in Production and Nutrient Cycling across a Wetness Gradient within a Floodplain Forest
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Floodplain forest ecosystems are highly valuable to society because of their potential for water quality improvement and vegetation productivity, among many other functions. Previous studies have indicated that hydrology influences productivity but that the relationship between hydroperiod and productivity is a complex one. Consequently, we compared multiple indexes of productivity, nutrient circulation, and hydroperiod among three communities on the Flint River floodplain, Georgia, that differed in terms of inundation frequency. We hypothesized that (a) the wettest community would have the lowest total net primary production (NPP) values because of saturated soil conditions; (b) as wetness increases, nutrient circulation in litterfall would decrease because of the hypothesized lower productivity in the wetter community; and (c) as wetness increases, internal translocation would become more efficient. The study site was partitioned into three wetness types—somewhat poorly drained (SPD), intermediate (I) and poorly drained (PD). We found that belowground biomass was greatest on the SPD, litterfall was similar for all three sites, and that woody biomass current annual increment (CAI) was greatest in the PD community. However, when the three variables were totaled for each site, the PD had the greatest NPP, thus disproving hypothesis (a). For hypothesis (b), we observed that P content in litterfall, although not significant, followed the predicted trend; nitrogen (N) content displayed the opposite pattern (PD > I > SPD). As wetness increased, internal translocation became more efficient for phosphorus (support for hypothesis [c]), but the SPD community was more efficient at retranslocating N (contradiction of hypothesis [c]).
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