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1 July 2001 Hydroperiod Influence on Breakdown of Leaf Litter in Cypress-gum Wetlands
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Many cypress-gum wetlands in the southeast United States are isolated from rivers and streams and are seasonally inundated by rainfall. Organic matter processing in these wetlands is caused primarily by biotic components (i.e., microbes and invertebrates), which are influenced by timing and duration of seasonal inundation, and low dissolved oxygen levels. Using litter bags, we examined breakdown of cypress (Taxodium spp.) and gum (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora) leaves in three wetlands with different hydroperiods: (1) flooded exposed (FE; 5 mo flooded/6 mo litter exposed), (2) multiple flooded exposed (MFE; 6 mo flooded/exposed/flooded/exposed) and (3) permanently flooded (PF; 11 mo flooded). Breakdown was fastest in the MFE wetland suggesting cycles of wetting and drying accelerated decomposition by promoting microbial activity through aeration. Even though ergosterol content, an indicator of fungal biomass on the litter, was similar among wetlands, we hypothesized that within the MFE wetland microbial activity was promoted by exposed conditions, but during subsequent flooding microbial biomass was kept at a low level by invertebrate consumers. Macroinvertebrate density and biomass were comparable between litter types, but were highest in the PF wetland, followed by MFE, then FE wetlands. Chironomids, oligochaetes, Caecidotea and Crangonyx were the dominant taxa indicating litter inputs are vital in maintaining the aquatic foodweb in this system. Cypress litter (k = −1.61 y−1) had faster breakdown rates than gum litter (k = −1.02 y−1), most likely because of plant morphology and greater surface area available to microbial decomposers. Ergosterol (mg g−1 AFDM leaf material) levels were higher on cypress (34.5) than gum (22.5) litter. In both litter types initial C:N and N:P ratios were >20, and C:P ratios were >500, indicating a possible P or N/P co-limitation in cypress-gum wetlands. Elemental gains or losses in litter were influenced predominantly by litter type and to a lesser extent by hydrologic regime. Gum leaves accumulated P, N, Ca and K and lost Mg, whereas cypress leaves had initial declines of these elements, followed by some accumulations in P and K. Temporal patterns of P showed that the drier sites (FE and MFE) immobilized more P than the wetter site (PF), suggesting that exposed conditions promoted microbial activity. In addition, N and P accumulations on gum leaves were highest in the summer at the time when wetlands would normally dry, indicating a seasonal period when moisture and temperature conditions are optimal for microbial growth. Net flux rates to the 1 y-old component of litter indicated that the FE wetland is accumulating more organic matter (172 g m−2 y−1) than the other wetlands (65 and 72 g m−2 y−1), which we attributed to higher cypress litter production. We concluded that hydrologic regime influences breakdown rates and element accumulations, but that net productivity is more important in determining litter accumulation rates.

JULIANN M. BATTLE and STEPHEN W. GOLLADAY "Hydroperiod Influence on Breakdown of Leaf Litter in Cypress-gum Wetlands," The American Midland Naturalist 146(1), 128-145, (1 July 2001).[0128:HIOBOL]2.0.CO;2
Received: 12 September 2000; Accepted: 1 January 2001; Published: 1 July 2001

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