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Phragmites australis meets Suaeda salsa on the “red beach”: Effects of an ecosystem engineer on salt-marsh litter decomposition

Cui, Lijuan, Pan, Xu, Li, Wei, Zhang, Xiaodong, Liu, Guofang, Song, Yao-Bin, Yu, Fei-Hai, Prinzing, Andreas, Cornelissen, Johannes H.C.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.693 pp. 133477
Phragmites australis, Suaeda salsa, biodegradation, carbon, community structure, ecosystem engineers, fungi, hemicellulose, lignin, nitrogen, phosphorus, pioneer species, salt marshes, soil, total phosphorus, East Asia
Suaeda salsa is a pioneer species in coastal wetlands of East Asia and recently an ecosystem engineer species, Phragmites australis, has started to enter into S. salsa communities owing to either autogenic or external drivers. The consequences of this phenomenon on the ecosystem functions of coastal wetlands are still unclear, especially for decomposition processes. Here we compared the decomposition rate of S. salsa litter, and associated litter chemistry dynamics, between sites with and without P. australis encroachment. We conducted a litter transplantation experiment to tease apart the effects of litter quality and decomposing environment or decomposer community composition. Our results showed that P. australis encroachment led to higher carbon and phosphorus losses of S. salsa litter, but equal losses of total mass, lignin, hemicellulose and nitrogen. Phragmites australis encroachment might affect decomposition rate indirectly by making S. salsa produce litter with higher lignin concentrations or via increasing the fungal diversity for decomposition. Moreover, P. australis as an ecosystem engineer might also alter the allocation of total phosphorus between the plants and the soils in coastal wetlands. Our findings indicate that P. australis could impact aboveground and belowground carbon and nutrient dynamics in coastal wetlands, and highlight the important consequences that encroaching plant species, especially ecosystem engineers, can have on ecosystem functions and services of coastal wetlands, not only in East Asia but probably also elsewhere in the world.