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Coastal and Estuarine Studies




Belowground production and decomposition along a tidal gradient in a Virginia salt marsh

L. K. Blum and R. R. Christian

Root and rhizome production and decay of Spartina alterniflora (salt marsh cord grass) and Juncus roemerianus (black needle rush) were compared at three locations along an elevation gradient over a 2-yr period using litterbags. The elevation gradient covered a horizontal distance of nearly 500 m from the tidal creek to the upland. The three locations included the low marsh (intermediate height-form S. alterniflora), mid marsh (short height-form S. alterniflora, Distichlis spicata, and Spartina patens) and high marsh (J. roemerianus). Additionally, organic matter accumulation at the low and high marsh locations was monitored for 5 and 4 years, respectively. Decay of J. roemerianus roots was more rapid than decomposition of S. alterniflora roots regardless of where the materials decayed. The differences in decay constants between J. roemerianus and S. alterniflora were not related to the differences in sediment chemistry among the three marsh zones. Root production was significantly different between the three zones and may be related to differences in plant type, growth form, or sediment pore water chemistry. These results suggest that sediment accretion differences in high, mid, and low marsh as a result of organic matter accumulation are related to the ability of the plants to produce roots and to differences in the susceptibility of plant roots to decomposition. We hypothesize that these biological processes alter marsh topography and play a critical role salt marsh transgression during sea-level rise in sediment-limited environments.

Citation: Blum, L. K., and R. R. Christian (2004), Belowground production and decomposition along a tidal gradient in a Virginia salt marsh, in The Ecogeomorphology of Tidal Marshes, Coastal Estuarine Stud., vol. 59, edited by S. Fagherazzi, M. Marani, and L. K. Blum, pp. 47–73, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/CE059p0047.

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