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Water SA

On-line version ISSN 1816-7950
Print version ISSN 0378-4738


LEMLEY, DA; SNOW, GC  and  HUMAN, LRD. The decomposition of estuarine macrophytes under different temperature regimes. Water SA [online]. 2014, vol.40, n.1, pp.117-124. ISSN 1816-7950.

The Great Brak Estuary is a temporarily open/closed system situated along the warm temperate coast of the Western Cape, South Africa. The estuary is subject to a variety of anthropogenic impacts (e.g. freshwater abstraction and sewage discharge) that increases its susceptibility to prolonged periods of mouth closure, eutrophication, and ultimately the formation of macroalgal blooms. The aim of this study was to determine the decomposition characteristics of the most dominant submerged macrophyte and macroalgal species in the Great Brak Estuary. Laboratory experiments were conducted to determine the effect of different temperature regimes on the rate of decomposition of 3 macrophyte species and the extent of inorganic nutrients released. The results demonstrated that anaerobic decomposition of Zostera capensis, Ruppia cirrhosa, and Cladophora glomerata resulted in high levels of inorganic nutrient release over the 28-day study period. Ammonium (NH4+) was the dominant form of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) released during the decomposition process for all three species. The low levels of total oxidised nitrogen (nitrate and nitrite) released during decomposition were attributed to the inhibition of nitrification by heterotrophic bacteria under anoxic conditions. The relative levels of dissolved inorganic phosphorus (DIP) released were lower than that observed for DIN, and peaked early on in the experimental period (ca. 7 days), thereafter stabilising or decreasing. The DIP levels were explained, in part, by the varying nutrient requirements and limitations of each species (e.g. nitrogen-limited). The release of inorganic nutrients was greatest at higher temperatures (i.e. 25°C and 30°C), due to the reduced bacterial activity experienced at lower temperatures (i.e. 15°C). Ultimately, estuarine health deteriorates during macroalgal blooms, and therefore it is important to implement mitigation measures, such as artificial mouth breaching and plant harvesting, in order to minimise or reverse the effects of eutrophication.

Keywords : Great Brak Estuary; decomposition; temperature; inorganic nutrient release; Cladophora glomerata; Zostera capensis; Ruppia cirrhosa.

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