Rapid recovery of carbon cycle processes after the cessation of chronic nutrient enrichment. uri icon


  • Salt marshes provide critical ecosystem services including some of the highest rates of carbon storage on Earth. However, many salt marshes receive very high nutrient loads and there is a growing body of evidence indicating that this nutrient enrichment alters carbon cycle processes. While many restoration plans prioritize nutrient management in their efforts to conserve salt marsh ecosystems, there has been little empirical investigation of the capacity for carbon cycle processes to recover once nutrient loading is reduced. To address this, we compared rates of greenhouse gas fluxes (i.e., CO2 and methane) measured using static chambers, and soil organic matter decomposition, using both litter bags and the Tea Bag Index (TBI), during the last two years of a long-term, ecosystem-scale nutrient enrichment experiment (2015-2016) as well as in the first two years of recovery post-enrichment (2017-2018). We found that both ecosystem respiration (Reco) and decomposition processes (i.e., rhizome decomposition and soil organic matter stabilization) were enhanced by nutrient enrichment, but returned to reference ecosystem levels within the first year following the cessation of nutrient enrichment and remained at reference levels in the second year. These results suggest that management practices intended to reduce nutrient loads in coastal systems may, in fact, allow for rapid recovery of carbon cycle processes, potentially restoring the high carbon sequestration rates of these blue carbon ecosystems.

publication date

  • January 1, 2021