Productivity and nutrient cycling in salt marshes: Contribution to ecosystem health
This study aimed to assess the contribution of different salt marsh halophytes (Spartina maritima, Scirpus maritimus, Halimione portulacoides, Sarcocornia fruticosa, and Sarcocornia perennis) to nutrient cycling and sequestration in warm-temperate salt marshes. Carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus concentration in plant organs and rhizosediment, as well as plant biomass were monitored every two months during one year. Results show that the C retained in the rhizosediment does not seem to be species or site specific. However, some halophytes seem to have a higher contribution to retain C from external sources, namely S. perennis and S. maritima. Regarding N, halophytes colonizing the upper and middle marsh areas had the highest NBPP (net belowground primary production) as well as the retention of N in the rhizosediment. Yet, excluding S. maritimus, all halophytes seem to contribute to the retention of N from external sources. The P retained in the rhizosediment does not seem to be species or site specific. Still, only S. maritima colonizing the lower marsh areas, which also had comparatively lower NBPP, seem to have a higher contribution to retain P from external sources. Additionally, it seems that there is no relation between plants sequestration capacity for nutrients and plant photosynthetic pathway. This work shows that nutrient cycling and accumulation processes by salt marsh halophytes contribute to reduce eutrophication (N and P retention) and also to reduce atmospheric CO2 (C retention), highlighting salt marsh ecosystems services and the crucial role of halophytes in maintaining ecosystem functions and health.