Indexed on: 01 Aug '03Published on: 01 Aug '03Published in: Plant Ecology
New England high salt marsh primary productivity is limited by N, but variation in plant N availability across salt marsh vegetation zones has not been quantified. To investigate this, we measured in situ net N mineralization rates throughout the growing season in three zones of a Maine high salt marsh, Juncus gerardii, Spartina patens, and mixed perennial forb. We also measured microclimate factors (soil temperatures and moistures) and substrate quality parameters (soil organic matter, soil total nitrogen, soil C:N ratio) to see if either related to differences in net N mineralization. To determine the relative importance of substrate quality and microclimate, we measured N mineralization of the different soil types in the laboratory, holding microclimate parameters constant. We also investigated the relative importance of microclimate and substrate statistically, with principal components analysis and multiple regression. In situ net N mineralization rates were significantly higher in the forb zone than in graminoid zones, but graminoid zone N mineralization rates did not vary significantly from each other. Soil temperatures, moistures, carbon, and nitrogen were all significantly higher in the forb zone than in graminoid zones, but C:N ratio did not vary significantly across zones. Principal components analysis and multiple regression revealed that microclimate was a more significant predictor of total N mineralized over the course of the growing season than was substrate quality. In contrast, when microclimate conditions were held constant, forb zone N mineralization was still significantly higher than that of graminoid zones, suggesting that substrate quality does exert some control on this process. Thus, both microclimate and substrate quality appear to influence N mineralization rates across vegetation zones of this Maine salt marsh.