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We conducted a laboratory experiment to examine how the decomposition of particulate belowground organic matter from a salt marsh is enhanced, or not, by different mixtures of crude oil, nitrogen (N), or phosphorus (P) acting individually or synergistically. The experiment was conducted in 3.8 L sampling chambers producing varying quantities of gas whose volume was used as a surrogate measure of organic decomposition under anaerobic conditions. Gas production after 28 days, from highest to lowest, was +NP = +N >>> +P, or +oil. The gas production under either +P or +oil conditions was indistinguishable from gas production in the control chamber. Nitrogen, not phosphorus, or +NP, was the dominant factor controlling organic decomposition rates in these experiments. The implication for organic salt marsh soils is that shoreline erosion is enhanced by salt marsh oiling, presumably by its toxicity, but not by its effect on the decomposition rates of plant biomass belowground. Nutrient additions, on the other hand, may compromise the soil strength, creating a stronger disparity in soil strength between upper and lower soil layers leading to marsh loss. Nutrient amendments intended to decrease oil concentration in the marsh may not have the desired effect, and are likely to decrease soil strength, thereby enhancing marsh-to-water conversions in organic salt marsh soils.

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Wetlands Ecology And Management

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