FCE-LTER scientists are studying patterns of organic matter, or nutrient-containing compounds derived from living things. Organic matter is an important component of the ecosystem, providing nutrients to plants and increasing productivity, or the amount of living material produced when nutrients and energy from sunlight are used to create plant tissues. Two forms of organic matter are common in the estuarine ecotones: floc, which is a clump of organic matter that serves as the base of the food web, and dissolved organic matter (DOM), which is so fine that it floats, nearly invisible, in the water column.
Understanding the sources and transport of DOM was a primary goal of scientists during Phase I of the FCE-LTER project. They believed that increased water flow resulting from restoration projects would lead to increased delivery of DOM to the estuarine ecotones. Combined with the elevated levels of phosphorus that occur in the ecotones, they thought an increase in DOM would provide the necessary nutrients to promote productivity in the region.
Researchers also wanted to expand their knowledge of the importance of DOM in groundwater, which intrudes into surface water through crevices in the limestone bedrock. They wanted to know if this DOM is of sufficient quality, in terms of nutrient content, to promote productivity in the region.