Questions: Various floodplain communities may differ in their relative abilities to influence water quality through nutrient retention and denitrification. Our main questions were: (1) what is the importance of sediment deposition and denitrification for plant productivity and nutrient retention in floodplains; (2) will rehabilitation of natural floodplain communities (semi-natural grassland, reedbed, woodland, pond) from agricultural grassland affect nutrient retention?
Location: Floodplains of two Rhine distributaries (rivers IJssel and Waal), The Netherlands.
Methods: Net sedimentation was measured using mats, denitrification in soil cores by acetylene inhibition and bio-mass production by clipping above-ground vegetation in winter and summer.
Results: Sediment deposition was a major source of N and P in all floodplain communities. Highest deposition rates were found where water velocity was reduced by vegetation structure (reedbeds) or by a drop in surface elevation (pond). Sediment deposition was not higher in woodlands than in grassland types. Denitrification rates were low in winter but significantly higher in summer. Highest denitrification rates were found in an agricultural grassland (winter and summer) and in the ponds (summer). Plant productivity and nutrient uptake were high in reedbeds, intermediate in agricultural grasslands, ponds and semi-natural grasslands and very low in woodlands (only understorey). All wetlands were N-limited, which could be explained by low N:P ratios in sediment.
Conclusions: Considering Rhine water quality: only substantial P-retention is expected because, relative to the annual nutrient loads in the river, the floodplains are important sinks for P, but much less for N. Rehabilitation of agricultural grasslands into ponds or reedbeds will probably be more beneficial for downstream water quality (lower P-concentrations) than into woodlands or semi-natural grasslands.