Primary production in an impounded baldcypress swamp (Taxodium distichum) at the northern limit of the range

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Courtesy of Springer

The ability of baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)swamps to maintain themselves near the northern limit of their range depends on their levels of production, which is not only are response to climate but also to local environmental factors(e.g., impoundment). We asked if primary production was reduced under impounded conditions and if species responses to impoundment were individualistic or more generalized. To examine long-term production trends in a permanently impounded baldcypress swamp, a 6-year study of leaf litterfall was conducted in Buttonland Swamp, Illinois, which had been impounded for 10 years before the beginning of the study. Buttonland Swamp is at the northern boundary of the baldcypress swamp region along the Cache River, Illinois, in the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley of the United States. When the litter production of impounded sites was compared to those with natural hydrology in the same region, impounded sites had about half of the total litterfall of natural sites. Overall, leaf litterfall rates declined during the study(201 vs. 113 gm–2 yr–1), but the pattern was negatively correlated with water depth, which explained 97% of the variation in the data. Along the transect with the lowest mean minimum water depth(<0.5 cm), leaf litterfall decreased linearly over 6 years from 377 to 154gm–2 yr–1. Total leaf litterfall rates were lower at the other three depths(5, 43, and 49 cm mean minimum water depths)and remained below 200 gm–2 yr–1 throughout the study. Acer saccharinum, Nyssa aquatica, and Salix nigra were most responsible for the decline in total leaf litterfall. Amounts of leaf litterfall of T. distichum and Liquidambar styraciflua also generally decreased, while that of Cephalanthus occidentalis increased overtime. Because species responses to environmental factors such as impoundment are individualistic, models should be based on the responses of individual species, rather than on communities. Our study further suggests that the effects of climate change on impounded swamps may differ from those with natural hydrology, since impounded swamps already have reduced production levels. This finding is particularly relevant since the hydrology of the majority of the worlds riverine ecosystems has been altered.

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