Phosphorus Limitation of Coastal Ecosystem Processes

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Science  24 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5606, pp. 563-565
DOI: 10.1126/science.1079100

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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.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • Present address: Duke University Wetland Center, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Box 90333, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708–0333, USA.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: pvs{at}

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