Effects of increased phosphorus loading on dissolved oxygen in a subtropical wetland, the Florida Everglades
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The Florida Everglades is an oligotrophic, phosphorus (P)-limited wetland that is experiencing eutrophication as a result of P-enriched agricultural runoff. Effects of P enrichment on diel water-column dissolved oxygen concentration (DO) profiles were measured along nutrient gradients downstream of agricultural discharges in two northern Everglades marshes and in field enclosures (mesocosms) exposed to different P loading rates. Reference (i.e., water-column TP < 10 μg/L) areas in the marsh interior were characterized by strong diel fluctuations in DO, and aerobic conditions generally were maintained throughout the diel cycle. Enriched stations (water-column TP elevated to between 12 and 131 μg/L) were characterized by dampened diel fluctuations and reduced DO, and the extent of these changes was correlated strongly with marsh P concentrations. Mean DO declined from between 1.81 and 7.52 mg/L at reference stations to between 0.04 and 3.18 mg/L in highly enriched areas. Similarly, minimum DO declined from between 0.33 and 5.86 mg/L to between 0 and 0.84 mg/L with increasing enrichment, and the frequency of extremely low DO (< 1 mg/L) increased from between 0 and 20% to as high as 100% in the most enriched areas. Diel oxygen profiles in P-enriched mesocosms declined progressively with time; all loading treatments exhibited similar DO during the 1st year of P loading, but concentrations declined significantly at higher loads by year 3. Reductions in water-column DO with increased P enrichment were associated with reduced oxygen production by submersed periphyton and macrophytes and increased sediment oxygen demand. Increased emergent macrophyte cover in enriched areas likely contributed to these changes by shading the water-column, which inhibited submerged productivity, and by providing inputs of nutrient-rich detritus, which increased oxygen demand. Declines in marsh DO are associated with other ecological changes such as increased anaerobic metabolism and an increase in invertebrate taxa that tolerate low DO. While background oxygen concentrations in wetlands can be lower than those in lakes and rivers, declines in water-column DO caused by eutrophication can result in biological impacts similar to those in other aquatic ecosystems.
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