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Free Content Importance of Chemical Composition of Salt Marsh Litter on Decay Rates and Feeding by Detritivores

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Litter in salt marshes degrades through a fast leaching phase, a second phase in which decomposers degrade the litter, and a third very slow phase during which refractory compounds remain or are formed. The chemical composition of the litter is the major control on the decay rates during the phases of decomposition, particularly the nitrogen and lignin contents. The chemical composition not only affects rates of decay of organic matter but also the rates of mineralization and immobilization of nutrients. Chemical composition, however, is not the whole story. External conditions, such as redox regime, alter decay and nutrient dynamics. Decay under reducing conditions is more restricted than under aerobic conditions; release of nitrogen is, in contrast, more pronounced under anaerobic conditions.

The chemical quality of detritus also affects detritivores. Soluble phenolics such as ferulic acid may deter feeding, while proteins enhance feeding. There is a hierarchy in these cues, so that the effect of ferulic acid is obliterated when the concentration of nitrogen is high enough. The concentrations of such compounds change during the decay process, so that the palatability of litter of different ages differs. Detritivores prefer litter rich in available nitrogen and low in lignin. The differences in palatability due to changes in chemical composition are apparently to some extent mirrored by the differences in growth of detritivores fed various types and ages of litter. Growth is best on litter with more available nitrogen. The amount of lignins did not, however, seem to affect growth.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 1984

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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