Nutrient and particulate fluxes in a salt marsh ecosystem: Tidal exchanges and inputs by precipitation and groundwater

  • Valiela I
  • Teal J
  • Volkmann S
 et al. 
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Waterborne nutrients enter Great Sippewissett Marsh through groundwater, rain, and tidal flooding. The ebb of tidal water removes nutrients. During summer, uptake by marsh biota leads to net import of nutrients. The increased export of ammonium in August may be due to leaching from senescent marsh plants. There is a net annual export of ammonium, nitrate, nitrite, dissolved organic (DON) and particulate (PN) nitrogen, particulate carbon (PC), and phosphate. Ammonium, DON, and PN are the major forms of nitrogen exported. Nutrient concentrations in coastal and marsh water are correlated, and marsh exports could contribute substantially to nutrient supplies of coastal waters. Groundwater entering the marsh provides primarily N03-N and DON. Nutrient inputs through precipitation consist primarily of DON, NO,-N, and NIIcN. Particulate materials in rain have a high C:N ratio, contributing little to enrichment of the nitrogen-limited salt marsh. Groundwater carries over 20 times the amount of nutrients brought in by rain. The nitrogen provided by both sources is more than enough to support annual plant growth. Inputs of nitrogen by groundwater are therefore important to the nitrogen economy of a salt marsh. About half the dissolved inorganic nitrogen brought into the marsh by groundwater is converted to and exported as PN. The marsh thus transforms the nitrogen that would have been used by primary producers into a form suitable for consumers such as shellfish. Large amounts of apparently refractory DON enter the marsh in groundwater and similar amounts are exported by tides. PC exported to coastal water is equivalent to 40% of the net annual production of Spartina alterniflora, the dominant marsh plant.

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  • Ivan Valiela

  • John M. Teal

  • Suzanne Volkmann

  • Deborah Shafer

  • Edward J. Carpenter

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