Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

Document Type



In the cycle of delta growth and decay, peat-forming wetlands span a time and space continuum. Later in the delta cycle, freshwater floating marshes become increasingly removed from external sediment subsidy and internal nutrient cycling controls plant productivity and organic matter accumulation. An interesting question is whether increased external nutrient loading can affect the basic processes that lead to peat formation—plant production and organic matter decomposition. I conducted several field studies to understand whether belowground organic matter accumulation and decomposition were affected with increased nutrient exposure; in addition, the plant community was monitored over three years. A laboratory soil respiration experiment was run to determine potential limiting nutrients to microbial activity. After two years, there was a reduction of total belowground organic matter accumulation with increased nutrients; this partially resulted from reduced belowground root deposition coupled with accelerated root decomposition. This reduction in belowground accumulation, however, may be related also to the disappearance of a common plant of the community following fertilization, and not necessarily from a phenotypic shift in the allocation pattern by the dominant plant species. Fertilization accounted for an approximate doubling in aboveground biomass, accompanied by decreased stem density, and decreased species richness. Compared to other species, the grass, maidencane (Panicum hemitomon) responded most positively to increased nutrient availability at both sites, while at one site goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) eventually captured a significant proportion of biomass. Nutrient resorption efficiency of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) were both decreased with increased fertility. The degree of N- or P-limitation observed across coastal populations of P. hemitomon reflect the composite influences of site geology, water source, fire frequency, and the more conservative cycling of P compared to N. Plant community nutrient limitation may not be a reliable predictor of the type of nutrient limitation to soil microbes. Floating marshes have developed and are sustained under nutrient restricted conditions compared to other coastal marshes. Although floating marshes may function as nutrient sinks, a change in community and plant allocation pattern can be predicted with increased nutrient enrichment of these wetland types.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Charles E. Sasser