Middle to late Holocene fluctuations of C3 and C4 vegetation in a Northern New England Salt Marsh, Sprague Marsh, Phippsburg Maine

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Organic Geochemistry

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Department or Program


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A 3.1 m sediment core was analyzed for stable carbon isotope composition of organic matter and higher plant leaf wax (HPLW) lipid biomarkers to determine Holocene shifts in C3(higher high marsh) and C4 (low and/or high marsh) plant deposition at the Sprague River Salt Marsh, Phippsburg, Maine. The carbon isotope composition of the bulk sediment and the HPLW parallel each other throughout most of the core, suggesting that terrestrial plants are an important source of organic matter to the sediments, and diagenetic alteration of the bulk sediments is minimal. The current salt marsh began to form 2500 cal yr BP. Low and/or high C4 marsh plants dominated deposition at 2000 cal yr BP, 700 cal yr BP, and for the last 200 cal yr BP. Expansion of higher high marsh C3 plants occurred at 1300 and 600 cal yr BP. These major vegetation shifts result from a combination of changes in relative sea-level rise and sediment accumulation rates.

Average annual carbon sequestration rates for the last 2500 years approximate 40 g C yr−1 m−2, and are in strong agreement with other values published for the Gulf of Maine. Given that Maine salt marshes cover an area of ∼79 km2, they represent an important component of the terrestrial carbon sink. More detailed isotopic and age records from a network of sediment cores at Sprague Marsh are needed to truly evaluate the long term changes in salt marsh plant communities and the impact of more recent human activity, including global warming, on salt marsh vegetation.


Original version is available from the publisher at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2006.06.006

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