2023 journal article

Restored forested wetland surprisingly resistant to experimental salinization

PLOS ONE, 18(12).

UN Sustainable Development Goal Categories
14. Life Below Water (OpenAlex)
Source: Web Of Science
Added: February 19, 2024

Salinization of coastal freshwater wetlands is an increasingly common and widespread phenomenon resulting from climate change. The ecosystem consequences of added salinity are poorly constrained and highly variable across prior observational and experimental studies. We added 1.8 metric tons of marine salts to replicated 200 m2 plots within a restored forested wetland in Eastern North Carolina over the course of four years. Based on prior small-scale experiments at this site, we predicted that salinization would lead to slower tree growth and suppressed soil carbon cycling. Results from this large-scale field experiment were subtle and inconsistent over space and time. By the fourth year of the experiment, we observed the predicted suppression of soil respiration and a reduction of water extractable carbon from soils receiving salt treatments. However, we found no cumulative effects of four years of salinization on total soil carbon stocks, tree growth, or root biomass. We observed substantial variation in soil solution chemistry (notably, pH and base saturation) across replicated treatment blocks; the effective salt levels, ionic composition, and pH varied following treatment depending upon pre-existing differences in edaphic factors. Our multi-year monitoring also revealed an underlying trend of wetland acidification across the entire site, a suspected effect of ecosystem recovery following wetland restoration on former agricultural land. The overwhelming resistance to our salt treatments could be attributed to the vigor of a relatively young, healthy wetland ecosystem. The heterogeneous responses to salt that we observed over space and time merits further investigation into the environmental factors that control carbon cycling in wetlands. This work highlights the importance of multi-year, large-scale field experiments for investigating ecosystem responses to global environmental change.