Experimental Saltwater Intrusion Drives Rapid Soil Elevation and Carbon Loss in Freshwater and Brackish Everglades Marshes
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Increasing rates of sea-level rise (SLR) threaten to submerge coastal wetlands unless they increase soil elevation at similar pace, often by storing soil organic carbon (OC). Coastal wetlands face increasing salinity, marine-derived nutrients, and inundation depths from increasing rates of SLR. To quantify the effects of SLR on soil OC stocks and fluxes and elevation change, we conducted two mesocosm experiments using the foundation species sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) and organic soils from freshwater and brackish Florida Everglades marshes for 1 year. In freshwater mesocosms, we compared ambient and elevated salinity (fresh, 9 ppt) and phosphorus (ambient, + 1 g P m−2 year−1) treatments with a 2 × 2 factorial design. Salinity addition reduced root biomass (48%), driving 2.8 ± 0.3 cm year−1 of elevation loss, while soil elevation was maintained in freshwater conditions. Added P increased root productivity (134%) but also increased breakdown rates (k) of roots (31%) and leaves (42%) with no effect on root biomass or soil elevation. In brackish mesocosms, we compared ambient and elevated salinity (10, 19 ppt) and inundated and exposed conditions (water level 5-cm below and 4-cm above soil). Elevated salinity decreased root productivity (70%) and root biomass (37%) and increased k in litter (33%) and surface roots (11%), whereas inundation decreased subsurface root k (10%). All brackish marshes lost elevation at similar rates (0.6 ± 0.2 cm year−1). In conclusion, saltwater intrusion in freshwater and brackish wetlands may reduce net OC storage and increase vulnerability to SLR despite inundation or marine P supplies.
Charles, S.P., Kominoski, J.S., Troxler, T.G. et al. Estuaries and Coasts (2019) 42: 1868. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-019-00620-3
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