We performed two litter decomposition experiments using nearly-senesced red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle L.) leaves collected from an Everglades dwarf mangrove wetland to understand the short-term (3 weeks) and long-term (1 year) changes in mass, as well as C-, N-, and P-content of decomposing leaf litter. We expected that leaves decomposing in this oligotrophic environment would be short-term sources of C, N, and P, but potential long-term sinks for N and P. In May 1998, we conducted a 3-week leaching experiment, incubating fresh, individual leaves in seawater for up to 21 days. From May 1997 to May 1998, leaf litter in mesh bags decomposed on the forest floor at two dwarf mangrove sites. Leaching accounted for about 33% loss of dry mass from R. mangle leaves after 3 weeks. Leaching losses were rapid, peaking by day 2, and large, with leachate concentrations of total organic carbon (TOC) and total phosphorus (TP) increasing by more than an order of magnitude after 3 weeks. Mean leaf C:N increased from 105 to 115 and N:P increased from a mean of 74 to 95 after 21 days, reflecting the relatively large leaching losses of N and P. Loss of mass in the litterbags leveled off after 4 months, with roughly 60%dry mass remaining (DMR) after nearly 1 year of decomposition. The mass of carbon in each litterbag declined significantly after 361 days, but the mass of nitrogen and phosphorus doubled, indicating long-term accumulation of these constituents into the detritus. Subsequently, the leaf C:N ratio dropped significantly from 90 to 34 after 361 days. Following an initial 44-day increase, leaf N:P decreased from 222 to 144, reflecting high accumulation of P relative to N. A review of several estuarine macrophyte decomposition studies reveals a trend in nitrogen accumulation through time regardless of site, but suggests no clear pattern for C and P. We believe that the increase in litter P observed in this study was indicative of the P-limited status of the greater Everglades ecosystem and that decomposing mangrove litter may represent a substantial phosphorus pool in the system.
Davis, S.E., C. Coronado-Molina, D.L. Childers, J.W. Day. 2003. Temporally dependent C, N, and P dynamics associated with the decay of Rhizophora mangle L. leaf litter in oligotrophic mangrove wetlands of the Southern Everglades. Aquatic Botany 75(3): 199-215.