Complex invader-ecosystem interactions and seasonality mediate the impact of non-native Phragmites on CH4 emissions
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Invasive plants can influence ecosystem processes such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from wetland systems directly through plant-mediated transfer of GHGs to the atmosphere or through indirect modification of the environment. However, patterns of plant invasion often co-vary with other environmental gradients, so attributing ecosystem effects to invasion can be difficult in observational studies. Here, we assessed the impact of Phragmites australis invasion into native shortgrass communities on methane (CH4) emissions by conducting field measurements of CH4 emissions along transects of invasion by Phragmites in two neighboring brackish marsh sites and compared these findings to those from a field-based mesocosm experiment. We found remarkable differences in CH4 emissions and the influence of Phragmites on CH4 emissions between the two neighboring marsh sites. While Phragmites consistently increased CH4 emissions dramatically by 10.4 ± 3.7 µmol m−2 min−1 (mean ± SE) in our high-porewater CH4 site, increases in CH4 emissions were much smaller (1.4 ± 0.5 µmol m−2 min−1) and rarely significant in our low-porewater CH4 site. While CH4 emissions in Phragmites-invaded zones of both marsh sites increased significantly, the presence of Phragmites did not alter emissions in a complementary mesocosm experiment. Seasonality and changes in temperature and light availability caused contrasting responses of CH4 emissions from Phragmites- versus native zones. Our data suggest that Phragmites-mediated CH4 emissions are particularly profound in soils with innately high rates of CH4 production. We demonstrate that the effects of invasive species on ecosystem processes such as GHG emissions may be predictable qualitatively but highly variable quantitatively. Therefore, generalizations cannot be made with respect to invader-ecosystem processes, as interactions between the invader and local abiotic conditions that vary both spatially and temporally on the order of meters and hours, respectively, can have a stronger impact on GHG emissions than the invader itself.
KeywordsPhragmites Methane emissions Spartina patens Blue carbon Tidal wetlands
We thank J. Duls, A. Peresta, G. Peresta, J. Hays, E. Hazelton, J. Caplan, J. Shapiro, B. Bernal, F. Leech, C. Bauer, E. Geoghegan, L. Aoki, S. Pitz and K. Pannier for their help with field and lab work. Further, we want to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that greatly improved our manuscript. Financial support was provided to P. Mueller through the Smithsonian Institution’s Graduate Student Fellowship Program and the University of Hamburg. Financial support was provided to J. Meschter through the Maryland Sea Grant Fellowship Program. The field study was supported by the Student Research Grant Program of the Society of Wetland Scientists provided to P. Mueller, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Horizons Internship provided to R. Hager, the Bryn Mawr College, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Funding for the lab work was provided by Bryn Mawr College.
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