Plant and Soil

, Volume 365, Issue 1–2, pp 41–57 | Cite as

Different plant traits affect two pathways of riparian nitrogen removal in a restored freshwater wetland

  • A. E. Sutton-Grier
  • J. P. Wright
  • C. J. Richardson
Regular Article


Background & aims

Plants may have dissimilar effects on ecosystem processes because they possess different attributes. Given increasing biodiversity losses, it is important to understand which plant traits are key drivers of ecosystem functions. To address this question, we studied the response of two ecosystem functions that remove nitrogen (N) from wetland soils, the accumulation of N in plant biomass and denitrification potential (DNP), to variation in plant trait composition.


Our experiment manipulated plant composition in a riparian wetland. We determined relative importance of plant traits and environmental variables as predictors of each ecosystem function.


We demonstrate that Water Use Efficiency (WUE) had a strong negative effect on biomass N. Root porosity and belowground biomass were negatively correlated with DNP. Trait ordination indicated that WUE was largely orthogonal to traits that maximized DNP.


These results indicate that plant species with different trait values are required to maintain multiple ecosystem functions, and provide a more mechanistic, trait-based link between the recent findings that higher biodiversity is necessary for multi-functionality. While we selected plant traits based on ecological theory, several of the plant traits were not good predictors of each ecosystem function suggesting the ecological theory linking traits to function is incomplete and requires strengthening.


Biodiversity and ecosystem function Denitrification potential (DNP) North Carolina Plant traits Wetland restoration 



aboveground biomass


aboveground biomass carbon to nitrogen ratio


biodiversity and ecosystem function


belowground biomass


belowground biomass carbon to nitrogen ratio


Below-ground Rooting Ratio




carbon dioxide


Denitrification Enzyme Assay


denitrification potential




extractable ammonium


extractable nitrate + nitrite


root porosity


structural equation modeling


specific leaf area


specific root length


water use efficiency



We especially wish to thank Eileen Thorsos for very helpful discussion of hypotheses and data analysis, and Jennifer Funk for comments on the manuscript. We would like to thank Paul Heine, Wes Willis, Joseph Lozier, Tracy Hamm, Amanda Ward, Sarah Eminhizer, Nate Emery, Josie Bamford, Serwaah Agyapong, Aileen Malloy, Lauren Kinsman, Amy Hammontree, Erin Brosnan, Doug Gorecki, Jocelyn Tutak, Youngeun Cho, Ahmed Farawi, and Tisha Johnson for help with sample processing. We also thank the many people who helped us with field work: Dr. Mengchi Ho, Dr. James Pahl, Mike Osland, Jen Morse, Julie DeMeester, Amani McHugh, Arlene Mendoza, Joseph Sexton, Eileen Thorsos, Dawoon Jung, and Nancy Morgans. This work was supported by NSF Grant DEB0508763, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, an American Fellowship from the Association of University Women Educational Foundation to A.E.S., a Society of Wetland Scientist Student Research Grant, the Duke Wetlands Center Case Study Endowment, and a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. A. E. S. was also partially supported by a Smithsonian Fellowship from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. E. Sutton-Grier
    • 1
  • J. P. Wright
    • 2
  • C. J. Richardson
    • 3
  1. 1.Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth SciencesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth SciencesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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