Spatial variability of phosphorus sorption dynamics in Louisiana salt marshes



Phosphorus (P) biogeochemistry has been studied in multiple wetland ecosystems, though few data exist on P sorption in U.S. Gulf Coast marshes. There also is a limited understanding of how oil spills in coastal zones can influence P dynamics in wetland soils. In this study, we measured P sorption potential, using the P sorption index (PSI), soil properties, and P saturation at increasing distances from the marsh edge in oiled and unoiled marshes in three regions along the southeastern Louisiana coast (Terrebonne Bay, western, and eastern Barataria Bay). Individual PSI values were highly variable, ranging from 19.5 to 175.6 mg P 100 g−1 and varying by at least a factor of five within each of the three regions, and did not significantly differ between regions or between oiled and unoiled marshes. Soil pH, organic matter, total N, N:P ratio, moisture content, cation exchange capacity, and P saturation differed between regions, and all soil parameters showed great variability between and within individual marshes. Extractable iron was the strongest predictor of PSI across all regions, explaining between 51 and 95% of the variability in individual regions. PSI increased with distance from marsh edge in Terrebonne Bay where other soil properties exhibited similar trends. Results suggest mineral composition of marsh soils, influenced by elevation-inundation gradients, are critical in dictating P loading to estuaries and open waters, and overall marsh functioning. Further, within 2 years of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, oiled marshes are able to sorb phosphorus at comparable levels as unoiled marshes.