FCE LTER Journal Articles


Controls on herbaceous litter decomposition in the estuarine ecotones of the Florida Everglades


The effects of nutrient availability and litter quality on litter decomposition were measured in two oligotrophic phosphorus (P)-limited Florida Everglades esturies, United States. The two estuaries differ, in that one (Shark River estuary) is directly connected to the Gulf of Mexico and receives marine P, while the other (Taylor Slough estuary) does not receive marine P because Florida Bay separates it from the Gulf of Mexico. Decomposition of three macrophytes.Cladium jamaicense, Eleochaaris spp., andJuncus roemerianus, was studied using a litter bag technique over 18 mo. Litter was exposed to three treatments: soil surface+macroinvertebrates (=macro), soil surface without macroinvertebrates (=wet), and above the soil and water (=aerial). The third treatment replicated the decomposition of standing dead leaves. Decomposition rates showed that litter exposed to the wet and macro treatments decomposed significantly faster than the aerial treatment, where atmospheric deposition was the only source of nutrients. Macroinvertebrates had no influence on litter decompostion rates.C. jamaicense decomposed faster at sites, with higher P, andEleocharis spp. decomposed significantly faster at sites with higher nitrogen (N). Initial tissue C:N and C:P molar ratios revealed that the nutrient quality of litter of bothEleocharis spp. andJ. roemerianus was higher thanC. jamaicense, but onlyEleocharis spp. decomposed faster thanC. jamaicense. C. jamaicense litter tended to immobilize P, whileEleocharis spp. litter showed net remineralization of N and P. A comparison with other estuarine and wetland systems revealed the dependence of litter decomposition on nutrient availability and litter quality. The results from this experiment suggest that Everglades restoration may have an important effect on key ecosystem processes in the estuarine ecotone of this landscape.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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