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Wetland Symposium

Decomposition of Plant Litter Following Reflooding of a Dry Northern Prairie Marsh


DALE A. WRUBLESKI, HENRY R. MURKIN, JEFFREY W. NELSON, AND ARNOLD G. VAN DER VALK

Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, Ducks Unlimited, Stonewall P.O. Box 1160, Oak Hammock Marsh, MB, R0C 2Z0 Canada; Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, Ducks Unlimited, Stonewall P.O. Box 1160, Oak Hammock Marsh, MB, R0C 2Z0 Canada; Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, Ducks Unlimited, Stonewall P.O. Box 1160, Oak Hammock Marsh, MB, R0C 2Z0 Canada; Iowa State University, Department of Botany, 124 Science II, Ames, IA 50011

During periods of drought or artificial drawdown, the dry bottoms of northern prairie marshes are revegetated by emergent macrophytes, as well as by mudflat species. Litter produced by these plants will be flooded following the return of water. This study examined the decomposition of above-ground plant litter of three dominant mudflat species (Aster laurentianus, Sonchus arvensis, and Chenopodium rubrum) as well as five dominant emergent macrophytes (Typha glauca, Phragmites australis, Scolochloa festucacea, Scirpus lacustris, and S. maritimus) during the reflooding of a series of experimental marshes in the Delta Marsh, Manitoba. We followed changes in litter dry mass, nitrogen and phosphorus over two, two-year periods (1985-87 and 1986-88).

Litter present at dry sites lost less dry mass than litter that was flooded, except for Phragmites and Typha litters, which showed no differences. There were no apparent differences between litter flooded at different water depths. Chenopodium litter showed the lowest amount of dry mass loss of all species, with 58-67% of its mass still present after two years. Scolochloa and Scirpus lacustris showed the greatest mass loss, with 18-38% and 6-27% of dry mass remaining after two years, respectively. Scolochloa and Scirpus lacustris litter started in different years showed very similar patterns of dry mass loss between years. Following initial losses of nitrogen and phosphorus, most litters exhibited little change in nutrient levels, except for Phragmites litter, which showed large increases in nutrients.


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