Short-term changes in phosphorus storage in an oligotrophic Everglades wetland ecosystem receiving experimental nutrient enrichment

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Natural, unenriched Everglades wetlands are known to be limited by phosphorus (P) and responsive to P enrichment. However, whole-ecosystem evaluations of experimental P additions are rare in Everglades or other wetlands. We tested the response of the Everglades wetland ecosystem to continuous, low-level additions of P (0, 5, 15, and 30 μg L−1 above ambient) in replicate, 100 m flow-through flumes located in unenriched Everglades National Park. After the first six months of dosing, the concentration and standing stock of phosphorus increased in the surface water, periphyton, and flocculent detrital layer, but not in the soil or macrophytes. Of the ecosystem components measured, total P concentration increased the most in the floating periphyton mat (30 μg L−1: mean = 1916 μg P g−1, control: mean = 149 μg P g−1), while the flocculent detrital layer stored most of the accumulated P (30 μg L−1: mean = 1.732 g P m−2, control: mean = 0.769 g P m−2). Significant short-term responses of P concentration and standing stock were observed primarily in the high dose (30 μg L−1 above ambient) treatment. In addition, the biomass and estimated P standing stock of aquatic consumers increased in the 30 and 5 μg L−1 treatments. Alterations in P concentration and standing stock occurred only at the upstream ends of the flumes nearest to the point source of added nutrient. The total amount of P stored by the ecosystem within the flume increased with P dosing, although the ecosystem in the flumes retained only a small proportion of the P added over the first six months. These results indicate that oligotrophic Everglades wetlands respond rapidly to short-term, low-level P enrichment, and the initial response is most noticeable in the periphyton and flocculent detrital layer.

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