, Volume 74, Issue 2, pp 264–271 | Cite as

An inventory of 13C abundances in coastal wetlands of Louisiana, USA: vegetation and sediments

  • G. L. Chmura
  • P. Aharon
  • R. A. Socki
  • R. Abernethy
Original Papers


Organic carbon-rich sediments from the surface of fresh, intermediate, brackish and salt marshes of coastal Louisiana were sampled and analyzed for their 13C content. The average ∂13C from all sites within each wetland type was-27.8‰,-22.1‰,-16.9‰, and-16.2‰, for fresh, intermediate, brackish and salt marshes, respectively. Means from the fresh, intermediate and brackish marshes were significantly different at the 0.01 level. A mixing model using measurements of standing crop and ∂13C of plant carbon was applied to estimate the contribution of each species to the sedimentary carbon at four of the marsh sites. Sedimentary ∂13C values generally reflected that of the dominant species present at each site. Brackish and salt marsh samples, however, showed a negative shift of ∂13C with respect to whole plant carbon. We interpret these depeleted ∂13C values to be the result of more extensive organic matter decomposition and selective preservation of 13C-depleted refractory components in sediments from saline sites. The results of this study suggest that ∂13C composition of sedimentary carbon may offer a valuable tool for distinguishing subtle changes in paleohydrology of wetlands resulting from relative sea level changes.

Key words

Wetlands Stable carbon isotopes Organic sediment Salinity gradient Mississippi delta plain 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aharon P, Chappell J (1986) Oxygen isotopes, sea level changes and the temperature history of a coral reef environment in New Guinea over the last 105 years. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palacoecol 56:337–379Google Scholar
  2. Bahr LM, Costanza R, Day JW Jr, Bayley SE, Neill C, Leibowitz SG, Fruci J (1983) Ecological characterization of the Mississippi deltaic plain region: a narrative with management recommendations. FWS/OBS-82/69, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Biological Services, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  3. Bein A, Horowitz A (1986) Papyrus-a historic newcomer to the Hula Valley, Israel? Rev Palaeobot Palynol 47:89–95Google Scholar
  4. Benner R, Moran MA, Hodson RE (1985) Effects of pH and plant source on lignocellulose biodegradation rates in two wetland ecosystems, the Okefenokee Swamp and a Georgia salt marsh. Limnol Oceanogr 30:489–499Google Scholar
  5. Bjorkman O, Gauhl E (1969) Carboxydismutase activity in plants with and without β-carboxylation photosynthesis. Planta 88:197–203Google Scholar
  6. Chabreck RH (1972) Vegetation water and soil characteristics of the Louisiana coastal region. Agric Exp Sta Bull No 664, Louisiana State Univ, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  7. Chmura GL, Aharon P, Socki RA, Patrick WH (1985) The potential of a ∂13C signature for wetland deposits in coastal Louisiana. EOS 66:1280Google Scholar
  8. Claypool GE, Kaplan IR (1974) The origin and distribution of methane in marine sediments. pp 99–139 In: Kaplan IR (ed) Natural gases in marine sediments. Plenum Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Conner WH, Sasser CE, Barker N (1986) Floristics of the Barataria Basin wetlands, Louisiana. Castanea 51:111–128Google Scholar
  10. Craig H (1957) Isotopic standards for carbon and oxygen and correction factors for mass spectrometric analysis of carbon dioxide. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 12:133–149Google Scholar
  11. Day, FP Jr (1982) Litter decomposition rates in the seasonally flooded Great Dismal Swamp. Ecology 63:670–678Google Scholar
  12. DeLaune RD (1986) The use of ∂13C signature of C-3 and C-4 plants in determining past depositional environments in rapidly accreting marshes of the Mississippi River Deltaic Plain, Louisiana, USA. Chem Geol 59:315–320Google Scholar
  13. Deines P (1980) The isotopic composition of reduced organic carbon. In: Fritz P, Fontes JCh (ed) Handbook of Environmental isotope geochemistry. Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, New York, pp 329–406Google Scholar
  14. Dzurec RS, Boutton TW, Caldwell MM, Smith BN (1985) Carbon isotope ratios of soil organic matter and their use in assessing community composition changes in Curlew Valley, Utah. Oecologia (Berlin) 66:17–24Google Scholar
  15. Ember LM, Williams DF, Morris JT (1987) Processes that influence carbon isotope variations in salt marsh sediments. Mar Ecol Prog Series 36:33–42Google Scholar
  16. Emery KO, Wigley RL, Bartlett AS, Rubin M, Barghoorn, ES (1967) Freshwater peat on the continental shelf. Science 158:1301–1307Google Scholar
  17. Feijtel TC (1986) Biogeochemical cycling of metals in Barataria Basin. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Louisiana State University, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  18. Feijtel TC, DeLaune RD, Patrick WH Jr (1986) Carbon flow in coastal Louisiana. Mar Ecol Prog Series 24:255–260Google Scholar
  19. Gerstengerger HH (1982) Report on the intercomparison for the isotope standards Limestone KH2 and polyethylene foil PEF 1. Akademic der Wissenschaften. Leipzig, DDRGoogle Scholar
  20. Gosselink JG (1984) The ecology of delta marshes of coastal Louisiana: a community profile. FWS/OBS-84/09, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Biological Services, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  21. Gosselink JG, Hopkinson CS Jr, Parrondon RT (1977) Common marsh plant species of the gulf coast area. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tech Rep D-77-44, Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MississippiGoogle Scholar
  22. Haines EB (1976a) Relation between the stable carbon isotope composition of fiddler crabs, plants, and soils in a salt marsh. Limnol Oceanog 21:880–883Google Scholar
  23. Haines EB (1977b) Stable carbon isotope in the biota, soils and tidal water of a Georgia salt marsh. Est Coast Mar Sci 4:609–616Google Scholar
  24. Hue AY (1980) Origin and formation of organic matter in recent sediments and its relation to kerogen. In: Durand B (ed) Kerogen-insoluble organic matter from sedimentary rocks. Editions Technip, Paris, pp 445–474Google Scholar
  25. Johnson RW, Calder JA (1973) Early diagenesis of fatty acids and hydrocarbons in a salt marsh environment. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 37:1943–1955Google Scholar
  26. Kilham OW, Alexander M (1984) A basis for organic matter accumulation in soils under anaerobiosis. Soil Sci 137:419–427Google Scholar
  27. Little TM, Hills FJ (1978) Agricultural experimentation-design and analysis. John Wiley and Sons, NYGoogle Scholar
  28. Nissenbaum A, Kaplan IR (1972) Chemical and isotopic evidence for the in situ origin of marine humic substance. Limnol Oceanogr 17:570–582Google Scholar
  29. O'Leary M (1981) Carbon isotope fractionation in plants. Phytochemistry 20:553–567Google Scholar
  30. Penfound WT, Hathaway ES (1938) Plant communities in the marshlands of southeastern Louisiana. Ecol Monorgr 8:1–56Google Scholar
  31. Peterson BJ, Howarth RW, Lipschultz F, Ashendorf D (1980) Salt marsh detritus: an alternative interpretation of stable carbon isotope ratios and the fate of Spartina alterniflora. Oikos 34:173–177Google Scholar
  32. Sasser CE, Gosselink JG (1984) Vegetation and primary productivity in a floating freshwater marsh in Louisiana. Aquatic Bot 20:245–255Google Scholar
  33. Sasser CE, Fuller D, Gosselink JG (1978) Environmental monitoring program. Louisiana offshore oil port pipeline. 1978 Annual report. Coastal Ecology Laboratory, Center for Wetland Resources, Louisiana State University, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  34. Sasser CE, Peterson GW, Fuller DA, Abernethy RK, Gosselink JG (1982) Environmental monitoring program. Louisiana offshore oil port pipeline. 1981 Annual report. Coastal Ecology Laboratory, Center for Wetland Resources, Louisiana State University, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  35. Schoell M, Faber E, Coleman ML (1983) Carbon and hydrogen isotopic compositions of the NBS 22 and NBS 21 stable isotope reference materials: an interlaboratory comparison. Org Geochem 5:3–6Google Scholar
  36. Shonwitz R, Stichler W, Ziegler H (1986) ∂13C values from soil respiration on sites with crops of C3 and C4 type of photosynthesis. Oecologia (Berlin) 69:305–308Google Scholar
  37. Shultz DJ, Calder JA (1976) Organic carbon 13C/12C variations in estuarine sediments. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 40:381–385Google Scholar
  38. Smith BN, Brown WV (1973) The Kranz syndrome in the graminae as indicated by carbon isotope ratios. Amer J Bot 60:505–513Google Scholar
  39. Smith BN, Epstein S (1971) Two categories of 13C/12C ratios for higher plants. Plant Physiol 47:380–384Google Scholar
  40. Sofer Z (1980) Preparation of carbon dioxide for stable carbon isotope analysis of petroleum fractions. Anal Chem 52:1389–1391Google Scholar
  41. Sternberg L, DeNiro MJ, Keeley JE (1984) Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon isotope ratios of cellulose from submerged aquatic crassulacean acid metabolism and non-crassulacean acid metabolism plants. Plant Physiol 76:68–70Google Scholar
  42. Tenney FG, Waksman SA (1930) Composition of natural organic materials and their decomposition in the soil: V. Decomposition of various chemical constituents in plant materials, under anaerobic conditions. Soil Sci 30:143–160Google Scholar
  43. Troughton JH, Card KA, Hendy CH (1974) Photosynthetic pathways and carbon isotope discrimination by plants. Carnegie Inst Yearbook 73:768–779Google Scholar
  44. Valiela I, Howes B, Howarth R, Giblin A, Foreman K, Teal J, Hobbie J (1982) Regulation of primary production and decomposition in a salt marsh ecosystem. In: Gopal B, Turner RE, Wetzel RG, Whigham DF (eds) Wetlands: ecology and mangement. Proceedings of the First International Wetlands Conference, New Delhi, India, International Scientific Publications, Jaipur, India, pp 151–168Google Scholar
  45. Vogel JC (1980) Fractionation of the carbon isotopes during photosynthesis. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New YorkGoogle Scholar
  46. Waksman SA, Tenney FG, Stevens KR (1928) The role of microorganisms in the transformation of organic matter in forest soils. Ecology 9:126–144Google Scholar
  47. Whelan T (1974) Methane, carbon dioxide and dissolved sulfate from interstitial water of coastal marsh sediments. Estuarine Coastal Mar Sci 2:407–415Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. L. Chmura
    • 1
  • P. Aharon
    • 2
  • R. A. Socki
    • 2
  • R. Abernethy
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratory for Wetland Soils and Sediments and Dept. Marine Science, Center for Wetland ResourcesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Dept. Geology and GeophysicsLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.Coastal Ecology Institute, Center for Wetland ResourcesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

Personalised recommendations