Articles | Volume 11, issue 17
Biogeosciences, 11, 4801–4808, 2014
Biogeosciences, 11, 4801–4808, 2014

Research article 11 Sep 2014

Research article | 11 Sep 2014

Temperature sensitivity of organic-matter decay in tidal marshes

M. L. Kirwan1, G. R. Guntenspergen2, and J. A. Langley3 M. L. Kirwan et al.
  • 1Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, Gloucester Point, VA, USA
  • 2US Geological Survey, Patuxent, MD, USA
  • 3Villanova University, Villanova, PA, USA

Abstract. Approximately half of marine carbon sequestration takes place in coastal wetlands, including tidal marshes, where organic matter contributes to soil elevation and ecosystem persistence in the face of sea-level rise. The long-term viability of marshes and their carbon pools depends, in part, on how the balance between productivity and decay responds to climate change. Here, we report the sensitivity of labile soil organic-matter decay in tidal marshes to seasonal and latitudinal variations in temperature measured over a 3-year period. We find a moderate increase in decay rate at warmer temperatures (3–6% per °C, Q10 = 1.3–1.5). Despite the profound differences between microbial metabolism in wetlands and uplands, our results indicate a strong conservation of temperature sensitivity. Moreover, simple comparisons with organic-matter production suggest that elevated atmospheric CO2 and warmer temperatures will accelerate carbon accumulation in marsh soils, and potentially enhance their ability to survive sea-level rise.

Final-revised paper