Wetland eco-engineering: measuring and modeling feedbacks of oxidation processes between plants and clay-rich material
Interest is growing in using soft sediment as a foundation in eco-engineering projects. Wetland construction in the Dutch lake Markermeer is an example: here, dredging some of the clay-rich lake-bed sediment and using it to construct wetland will soon begin. Natural processes will be utilized during and after construction to accelerate ecosystem development. Knowing that plants can eco-engineer their environment via positive or negative biogeochemical plant–soil feedbacks, we conducted a 6-month greenhouse experiment to identify the key biogeochemical processes in the mud when Phragmites australis is used as an eco-engineering species. We applied inverse biogeochemical modeling to link observed changes in pore water composition to biogeochemical processes. Two months after transplantation we observed reduced plant growth and shriveling and yellowing of foliage. The N : P ratios of the plant tissue were low, and these were affected not by hampered uptake of N but by enhanced uptake of P. Subsequent analyses revealed high Fe concentrations in the leaves and roots. Sulfate concentrations rose drastically in our experiment due to pyrite oxidation; as reduction of sulfate will decouple Fe-P in reducing conditions, we argue that plant-induced iron toxicity hampered plant growth, forming a negative feedback loop, while simultaneously there was a positive feedback loop, as iron toxicity promotes P mobilization as a result of reduced conditions through root death, thereby stimulating plant growth and regeneration. Given these two feedback mechanisms, we propose the use of Fe-tolerant species rather than species that thrive in N-limited conditions. The results presented in this study demonstrate the importance of studying the biogeochemical properties of the situated sediment and the feedback mechanisms between plant and soil prior to finalizing the design of the eco-engineering project.