FCE LTER Journal Articles


Water source utilization and foliar nutrient status differs between upland and flooded plant communities in wetland tree islands


Tree islands in the Everglades wetlands are centers of biodiversity and targets of restoration, yet little is known about the pattern of water source utilization by the constituent woody plant communities: upland hammocks and flooded swamp forests. Two potential water sources exist: (1) entrapped rainwater in the vadose zone of the organic soil (referred to as upland soil water), that becomes enriched in phosphorus, and (2) phosphorus-poor groundwater/surface water (referred to as regional water). Using natural stable isotope abundance as a tracer, we observed that hammock plants used upland soil water in the wet season and shifted to regional water uptake in the dry season, while swamp forest plants used regional water throughout the year. Consistent with the previously observed phosphorus concentrations of the two water sources, hammock plants had a greater annual mean foliar phosphorus concentration over swamp forest plants, thereby supporting the idea that tree island hammocks are islands of high phosphorus concentrations in the oligotrophic Everglades. Foliar nitrogen levels in swamp forest plants were higher than those of hammock plants. Linking water sources with foliar nutrient concentrations can indicate nutrient sources and periods of nutrient uptake, thereby linking hydrology with the nutrient regimes of different plant communities in wetland ecosystems. Our results are consistent with the hypotheses that (1) over long periods, upland tree island communities incrementally increase their nutrient concentration by incorporating marsh nutrients through transpiration seasonally, and (2) small differences in micro-topography in a wetland ecosystem can lead to large differences in water and nutrient cycles.


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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