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Title: Disturbance legacies increase and synchronize nutrient concentrations and bacterial productivity in coastal ecosystems

Long‐term ecological research can resolve effects of disturbance on ecosystem dynamics by capturing the scale of disturbance and interactions with environmental changes. To quantify how disturbances interact with long‐term directional changes (sea‐level rise, freshwater restoration), we studied 17 yr of monthly dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total nitrogen (TN), and phosphorus (TP) concentrations and bacterioplankton productivity across freshwater‐to‐marine estuary gradients exposed to multiple disturbance events (e.g., droughts, fire, hurricanes, and low‐temperature anomalies) and long‐term increases in water levels. By studying two neighboring drainages that differ in hydrologic connectivity, we additionally tested how disturbance legacies are shaped by hydrologic connectivity. We predicted that disturbance events would interact with long‐term increases in water levels in freshwater and marine ecosystems to increase spatiotemporal similarity (i.e., synchrony) of organic matter, nutrients, and microbial activities. Wetlands along the larger, deeper, and tidally influenced Shark River Slough (SRS) drainage had higher and more variable DOC, TN, and TP concentrations than wetlands along the smaller, shallower, tidally restricted Taylor River Slough/Panhandle (TS/Ph) drainage. Along SRS, DOC concentrations declined with proximity to coast, and increased in magnitude and variability following drought and flooding in 2015 and a hurricane in 2017. Along TS/Ph, DOC concentrations varied by site (higher in marine than freshwater wetlands) but not year. In both drainages, increases in TN from upstream freshwater marshes occurred following fire in 2008 and droughts in 2010 and 2015, whereas downstream increases in TP occurred with coastal storm surge from hurricanes in 2005 and 2017. Decreases in DOC:TN and DOC:TP were explained by increased TN and TP. Increases in bacterioplankton productivity occurred throughout both drainages following low‐temperature events (2010 and 2011) and a hurricane (2017). Long‐term TN and TP concentrations and bacterioplankton productivity were correlated (r > 0.5) across a range of sampling distances (1–50 km), indicating spatiotemporal synchrony. DOC concentrations were not synchronized across space or time. Our study advances disturbance ecology theory by illustrating how disturbance events interact with long‐term environmental changes and hydrologic connectivity to determine the magnitude and extent of disturbance legacies. Understanding disturbance legacies will enhance prediction and enable more effective management of rapidly changing ecosystems.

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Award ID(s):
1832229 1237517 0620409 1801244
Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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