In Phase I of the FCE-LTER project, scientists studied the accumulation of organic matter – or nutrient-containing compounds derived from living things – in the estuarine ecotones. Organic matter, which can occur in the form of dissolved organic matter (DOM) or in clumps known as floc, is an important component of ecosystems, providing nutrients to plants and increasing their productivity, or the amount of living material. In the estuarine ecotones, organic matter can be produced locally as plant matter decays, or it can be delivered by upstream freshwater, groundwater, and ocean water.
Researchers found that sources of organic matter differ between the Shark River Slough/Gulf of Mexico ecotone and the Taylor Slough/Florida Bay ecotone. In the Taylor Slough ecotone, much of the organic matter is produced locally during the dry season as plants die. This organic matter is then incorporated into the soil or exported to Florida Bay and the surrounding freshwater marshes during the wet season. Researchers also found that the Taylor Slough ecotone receives DOM from groundwater. In contrast, the Shark River Slough ecotone receives much of its organic matter from the Gulf of Mexico and the upstream Everglades. The majority of floc was found to be produced locally in both ecotones.
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