Effects of transient Phragmites australis removal on brackish marsh greenhouse gas fluxes

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Phragmites australis is a common invasive reed of North American coastal marshes, and efforts to control or eradicate it often are included in coastal marsh restoration efforts. While much research has tested impacts of P. australis removal on plant and faunal communities, less is known about biogeochemical responses to P. australis removal. Since coastal marshes are valued for their robust carbon sequestration, understanding the effect of P. australis removal on marsh carbon cycling dynamics is important. Temporary P. australis aboveground biomass clearing conducted as part of a restoration effort provided an opportunity to evaluate changes in fluxes of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) during P. australis removal and recovery. In Experiment 1 (2014 growing season), GHG fluxes were compared between a P. australis stand cleared mechanically and recovered within months of initial removal and an uncleared stand in the same marsh system. CO2 uptake increased dramatically in the cleared stand as P. australis regrew, but CH4 emissions remained unchanged, demonstrating that P. australis did not directly contribute to CH4 emission. In Experiment 2 (2015 manipulations), to test mechanisms of P. australis’ impact on GHG fluxes, fluxes (light and dark) were compared between unimpacted P. australis plots, cut P. australis plots with litter, and cleared P. australis plots without litter. P. australis cutting (independent of litter removal) resulted in increased CO2 and CH4 emissions. Recovery of P. australis directly drove the rapid recovery of CO2 uptake, and did not increase (and possibly attenuated) CH4 emissions. Results of this study suggest that at this site, P. australis removal, in the absence of native vegetation recovery, may exacerbate GHG emission of coastal marshes in the short term, and that longer-term impacts warrant investigation.

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Atmospheric Environment