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Primary production in coastal wetlands is conventionally thought to be limited by nitrogen. Although the plant community in a pristine salt marsh was found to be limited primarily by nitrogen availability, the bacterial community in the soil was limited by phosphorus. Hence, in coastal wetlands, and possibly in many ecosystems, individual trophic groups may respond differently to nitrogen and phosphorus loading. Phosphorus limitation of the growth of nitrogen-transforming bacteria will affect carbon fixation, storage, and release mediated by plants, a result that has important implications for ecosystem management.