Impacts of sedimentation and nitrogen enrichment on wetland plant community development

Wendy M. Mahaney, Denice H. Wardrop, Robert P. Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Many factors influence which plant species are found in a particular wetland. The species pool is composed of the species present in the seed bank and species able to disperse into the wetland, and many abiotic and biotic factors interact to influence a species performance and abundance in the plant community. Anthropogenic activities produce specific stressors on wetland systems that alter these abiotic and biotic interactions, potentially altering species composition. We simulated three common wetland hydrogeomorphic (HGM) subclasses in a greenhouse to examine the effects of two stressors-sedimentation and nitrogen (N) enrichment-on the performance of 8 species grown in artificial communities. Species establishment, height, biomass, and foliar N and P concentrations were measured to explore species responses to stressors and competition, as well as the potential impacts of changes in species composition on ecosystem processes. Species were affected differently by sedimentation and N enrichment, and there were differences in overall community sensitivity to stressors between wetland subclasses. Sedimentation generally reduced seedling establishment, while N enrichment produced variable effects on height and biomass. Interspecific competition had little effect on establishment but significantly reduced most species biomass. Sedimentation generally lowered community biomass, diversity, and richness, while enrichment increased community biomass. Establishment, biomass, and foliar nutrient concentrations significantly differed between many species, suggesting that shifts in species composition may impact ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling and carbon storage. Phalaris arundinacea, an aggressive clonal graminoid, universally dominated all wetland subclasses. This dominance across a range of environmental conditions (sedimentation, fertility, and hydrology) has important implications for both restoration and predicting the impacts of human activities on species composition. Our results suggest that, in regions where P. arundinacea is common, restoration projects that establish communities from seeds and human activities that cause vegetation removal are likely to become dominated by P. arundinacea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-243
Number of pages17
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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