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Thresholds of Change in Decomposition Rate along a Dune/Swale Transect on a Virginia Barrier Island

Dominic J. Graziani and Frank P. Day
Journal of Coastal Research
Vol. 31, No. 1 (January 2015), pp. 148-154
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43290189
Page Count: 7
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Abstract

The objective of the current study was to examine fine spatial scale variation in aboveground decomposition rate over a barrier island dune/swale gradient in relation to the ground-water-free surface, soil nitrogen, and associated ecosystem states in order to identify thresholds of process or state change. The litterbag study was conducted on the Virginia Coast Reserve-Long Term Ecological Research Site in Virginia, United States. Mean aboveground decay rate (yr⁻¹) ranged from 0.339 (upper dune) to 0.699 (marsh/lower dune transition). The upper dune, marsh, and lower dune (Morella thicket side) had the lowest aboveground decay rates. The marsh edge, marsh/lower dune transition and Morella thicket exhibited the highest decomposition rates. Our results did not suggest that soil N content was a good indicator of state change or system process rates, whereas, distance to ground water demonstrated a significant relationship with aboveground decay. Relatively small (approximately 0.2-0.4 m) increases or decreases in elevation affected decay rates and community state. Free-surface thresholds that cause state changes or shifts in ecosystem processes provide the capability to project changes prompted by sea-level rise or shifts in other free surfaces over entire landscapes. Our results suggest that the ground-water-free surface is a good candidate for making such projections.

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