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Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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We compared processing and fate of dissolved NO3- in two New England salt marsh ecosystems, one receiving natural flood tide concentrations of similar to 1-4 mu mol NO3-/L and the other receiving experimentally fertilized flood tides containing similar to 70-100 mu mol NO3-/L. We conducted simultaneous (NO3-)-N-15 (isotope) tracer additions from 23 to 28 July 2005 in the reference (8.4 ha) and fertilized (12.4 ha) systems to compare N dynamics and fate. Two full tidal cycles were intensively studied during the paired tracer additions. Resulting mass balances showed that essentially 100% (0.48-0.61 mol NO3-N.ha(-1).h(-1)) of incoming NO3- was assimilated, dissimilated, sorbed, or sedimented (processed) within a few hours in the reference system when NO3- concentrations were 1.3-1.8 mu mol/L. In contrast, only 50-60% of incoming NO3- was processed in the fertilized system when NO3- concentrations were 84-96 mu mol/ L; the remainder was exported in ebb tidewater. Gross NO3- processing was similar to 40 times higher in the fertilized system at 19.34- 24.67 mol NO3-N.ha(-1).h(-1). Dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium was evident in both systems during the first 48 h of the tracer additions but <1% of incoming (NO3-)-N-15 was exported as (NH4+)-N-15. Nitrification rates calculated by (NO3-)-N-15 dilution were 6.05 and 4.46 mol.ha(-1).h(-1) in the fertilized system but could not be accurately calculated in the reference system due to rapid (<4 h) NO3- turnover. Over the five-day paired tracer addition, sediments sequestered a small fraction of incoming NO3-, although the efficiency of sequestration was 3.8% in the reference system and 0.7% in the fertilized system. Gross sediment N sequestration rates were similar at 13.5 and 12.6 mol.ha(-1).d(-1), respectively. Macrophyte NO3- uptake efficiency, based on tracer incorporation in aboveground tissues, was considerably higher in the reference system (16.8%) than the fertilized system (2.6%), although bulk uptake of NO3- by plants was lower in the reference system (1.75 mol NO3-.ha(-1).d(-1)) than the fertilized system (similar to 10 mol NO3-.ha(-1).d(-1)). Nitrogen processing efficiency decreased with NO3- load in all pools, suggesting that the nutrient processing capacity of the marsh ecosystem was exceeded in the fertilized marsh.




biogeochemistry; eutrophication; New England, USA; nitrogen processing efficiency; salt marsh; stable isotopes

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