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Changes in mass and nutrient content of wood during decomposition in a south Florida mangrove forest

Department of Biology and Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA, and * US Geological Survey, Biological Resources Discipline, Florida Integrated Science Center, 600 4th Street South, St Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA

Article originally published in the Journal of Ecology 2005 93, 618-631.


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1 Large pools of dead wood in mangrove forests following disturbances such as hurricanes may influence nutrient fluxes. We hypothesized that decomposition of wood of mangroves from Florida, USA (Avicennia germinans, Laguncularia racemosa and Rhizophora mangle), and the consequent nutrient dynamics, would depend on species, location in the forest relative to freshwater and marine influences and whether the wood was standing, lying on the sediment surface or buried.

2 Wood disks (8-10 cm diameter, 1 cm thick) from each species were set to decompose at sites along the Shark River, either buried in the sediment, on the soil surface or in the air (above both the soil surface and high tide elevation).

3 A simple exponential model described the decay of wood in the air, and neither species nor site had any effect on the decay coefficient during the first 13 months of decomposition.

4 Over 28 months of decomposition, buried and surface disks decomposed following a two-component model, with labile and refractory components. Avicennia germinans had the largest labile component (18 ± 2% of dry weight), while Laguncularia racemosa had the lowest (10 ± 2%). Labile components decayed at rates of 0.37-23.71% month-1, while refractory components decayed at rates of 0.001-0.033% month-1. Disks decomposing on the soil surface had higher decay rates than buried disks, but both were higher than disks in the air. All species had similar decay rates of the labile and refractory components, but A. germinans exhibited faster overall decay because of a higher proportion of labile components.

5 Nitrogen content generally increased in buried and surface disks, but there was little change in N content of disks in the air over the 2-year study. Between 17% and 68% of total phosphorus in wood leached out during the first 2 months of decomposition, with buried disks having the greater losses, P remaining constant or increasing slightly thereafter.

6 Newly deposited wood from living trees was a short-term source of N for the ecosystem but, by the end of 2 years, had become a net sink. Wood, however, remained a source of P for the ecosystem.

7 As in other forested ecosystems, coarse woody debris can have a significant impact on carbon and nutrient dynamics in mangrove forests. The prevalence of disturbances, such as hurricanes, that can deposit large amounts of wood on the forest floor accentuates the importance of downed wood in these forests.

Key-words: Avicennia germinans, decomposition, disturbance, Everglades National Park, hurricane effects, Laguncularia racemosa, mangroves, nutrients, Rhizophora mangle, wood

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Related information:

SOFIA Project: Dynamics of Land Margin Ecosystems: Historical Change, Hydrology, Vegetation, Sediment, and Climate

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