Plant community composition as a driver of decomposition dynamics in riparian wetlands

A. Britson, D. Wardrop, P. Drohan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Riparian wetlands are well known for providing the important ecosystem service of carbon storage. However, changes in land-use regimes surrounding riparian wetlands have been shown to result in alterations to the wetland plant community. These plant community changes have the potential to alter litter quality, decomposition rates, and ultimately the capacity of riparian wetlands to store carbon. To determine the effects of plant community shifts associated with disturbance on decomposition and carbon inputs, we performed a yearlong decomposition experiment using in situ herbaceous material, leaf litter, and control litter and examined biomass inputs in six headwater riparian wetlands in central Pennsylvania. Two sites were classified as Hemlock-Mixed Hardwood Palustrine Forest, two were classified as Broadleaf Palustrine Forest, and two were classified as Reed Canary Grass-Floodplain Grassland (Zimmerman et al. 2012). Plant matter with greater initial percent C, percent lignin, and lignin:N ratios decomposed more slowly while plant matter with greater initial cellulose decomposed more quickly. However, no significant differences were found between plant community types in decomposition rate or amount of carbon remaining at the end of the experiment, indicating that the differences in plant community type did not have a large impact on decomposition in riparian wetlands. This work has important implications for studies that examine the decomposition dynamics of a few select species, as they may not capture the decomposition dynamics of the plant community and thus extrapolating results from these studies to the larger ecosystem may be inappropriate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-346
Number of pages12
JournalWetlands Ecology and Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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