A comparison of sediment microbial communities associated with Phragmites australis and Spartina alterniflora in two brackish wetlands of New Jersey

Beth Ravit, Joan G. Ehrenfeld, Max M. Haggblom

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111 Scopus citations


The extensive spread of Phragmites australis throughout brackish marshes on the East Coast of the United States is a major factor governing management and restoration decisions because it is assumed that biogeochemical functions are altered by the invasion. Microbial activity is important in providing wetland biogeochemical functions such as carbon and nitrogen cycling, but there is little known about sediment microbial communities in Phragmites marshes. Microbial populations associated with invasive Phragmites vegetation and with native salt marsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, may differ in the relative abundance of microbial taxa (community structure) and in the ability of this biota to decompose organic substrates (community biogeochemical function). This study compares sediment microbial communities associated with Phragmites and Spartina vegetation in an undisturbed brackish marsh near Tuckerton, New Jersey (MUL), and in a brackish marsh in the anthropogenically affected Hackensack Meadowlands (SMC). We use phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis and enzymatic activity to profile sediment microbial communities associated with both plants in each site. Sediment analyses include bulk density, total organic matter, and root biomass. PLFA profiles indicate that the microbial communities differ between sites with the undisturbed site exhibiting greater fatty acid richness (62 PLFA recovered from MUL versus 38 from SMC). Activity of the 5 enzymes analyzed (β-glucosidase, acid phosphatase, chitobiase, and 2 oxidases) was higher in the undisturbed site. Differences between vegetation species as measured by Principal Components Analysis were significantly greater at the undisturbed MUL site than at SMC, and patterns of enzyme activity and PLFAs did not correspond to patterns of root biomass. We suggest that in natural wetland sediments, macrophyte rhizosphere effects influence the community composition of sediment microbial populations. Physical and chemical site disturbances may impose limits on these rhizosphere effects, decreasing sediment microbial diversity and potentially, microbial biogeochemical functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-474
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Aquatic Science
  • General Environmental Science


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