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  1. Abstract

    Climate change is accelerating sea‐level rise and saltwater intrusion in coastal regions world‐wide and interacting with large‐scale changes in species composition in coastal wetlands. Quantifying macrophyte litter breakdown along freshwater‐to‐marine coastal gradients is needed to predict how carbon stores will respond to shifts in both macrophyte communities and water chemistry under changing environmental conditions.

    To test the interactive drivers of changing species identity and water chemistry, we performed a reciprocal transplant of four macrophyte litter species in seven sites along freshwater‐to‐marine gradients in the Florida Coastal Everglades. We measured surface water chemistry (dissolved organic carbon, total nitrogen and total phosphorus), litter chemistry (% nitrogen, % phosphorus, change in N:P molar ratio, % cellulose and % lignin as proxies for recalcitrance) and litter breakdown rates (k/degree‐day).

    Direct effects of salinity and surface water nutrients were the strongest drivers ofk, but unexpectedly, litter chemistry did not correlate with litterk. However, salinity strongly correlated with changes in litter chemistry, whereby litter incubated in brackish and marine wetlands was more labile and gained more phosphorus compared with litter in freshwater marshes. Our results suggest that litterkin coastal wetlands is explained by species‐specific interactions among water and litter chemistries. Water nutrient availability was an important predictor of breakdown rates across species, but breakdown rates were only explained by the carbon recalcitrance of litter in the species with the slowest breakdown (Cladium jamaicense), indicating the importance of carbon structure, and species identity on breakdown rates.

    Synthesis. In oligotrophic ecosystems, nutrients are often the primary driver of organic matter breakdown. However, we found that variation in macrophyte breakdown rates in oligotrophic coastal wetlands was also explained by salinity and associated seawater chemistry, emphasising the need to understand how saltwater intrusion will alter organic matter processing in wetlands. Our results suggest that marine subsidies associated with sea‐level rise have the potential to accelerate leaf litter breakdown. The increase in breakdown rates could either be buffered or increase further as sea‐level rise also shifts macrophyte community composition to more or less recalcitrant species.

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  2. Dissolved organic matter (DOM) drives biogeochemical processes in aquatic ecosystems. Yet, how hydrologic restoration in nutrient‐enriched ecosystems changes DOM and the consequences of those changes for the carbon cycle remain unclear. To predict the consequences of hydrologic restoration on carbon cycling in restored wetlands, we need to understand how local environmental factors influence production, processing, and transport of DOM. We collected surface water samples along transects in restored peat (organic‐rich, macrophyte‐dominated) and marl (carbonate, periphyton‐dominated) freshwater marshes in the Everglades (Florida, U.S.A.) that varied in environmental factors (water depth, phosphorus [P] concentrations [water, macrophytes, periphyton, and soil], and primary producer biomass) to understand drivers of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and DOM composition. Higher water depths led to a “greening” of DOM, due to increasing algal contributions, with decreasing concentrations of DOC in peat wetlands, and a “browning” of DOM, due to increasing humic contributions, with increasing DOC concentrations in marl wetlands. Soil total P was positively correlated with DOC concentrations and microbial contributions to DOM in peat wetlands, and periphyton total P was positively correlated with algal contributions to DOM in marl wetlands. Despite large variations in both vegetation biomass and periphyton biovolume across transects and sites, neither were predictors of DOC concentrations or DOM composition. Hydrologic restoration differentially alters DOM in peat and marl marshes and interacts with nutrient enrichment to shift proportions of green and brown contributions to surface water chemistry, which has the potential to modify wetland food webs, as well as the processing of carbon by micro‐organisms.

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  3. null (Ed.)