In the Everglades, the majority of fish detrital inputs occur during the dry season, when water-level drawdown reduces aquatic habitat. While these mortality events are highly seasonal, the remineralization and recycling of fish detrital nutrients may represent an important stimulus to the ecosystem in the following wet season. The goal of this study was to quantify the rate of detrital fish decomposition during three periods of the year to determine seasonal variations in decomposition patterns in this ecosystem. A multiple regression analysis showed that hydroperiod and water depth both played a role in determining fish decomposition rates within this ecosystem. Decomposition rates ranged from a low of 13% day−1 in December 2000 to a high of 50% day−1 in April 2001, the height of the dry season. Phosphorus analysis showed that Gambusia holbrooki, the dominant small fish species in the Everglades, contains 7.169 ± 1.46 mg P g−1 wet fish weight. Based on the observed decomposition rates and the average biomass added, the estimated daily flux of phosphorus from the experimental detrital loading ranged from a low of 27.04 mg P day−1 to a high of 108.14 mg P day−1 during the decomposition period. We estimated that these inputs could represent an input of 43 μg P m−2 day−1 to the total temporal Everglades phosphorus budget. Although much of this phosphorus is likely incorporated into the macroinvertebrate pool, detrital inputs peak during the dry season when nutrients are most likely to be incorporated into the soil and occur when decomposition of vegetative material is moisture-limited. These inputs may therefore play an important role in stimulating vegetative production during the early wet season.
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Vol. 24 • No. 3