MEPS 166:73-81 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/meps166073

Variability of stable sulfur isotopic ratios in Spartina alterniflora

Judith M. Stribling1,*, Jeffrey C. Cornwell2, Carolyn Currin3

1Department of Biological Sciences, Salisbury State University, 1101 Camden Avenue, Salisbury, Maryland 21801, USA 2Horn Point Laboratory, Center for Environmental Science, University of Maryland System, PO Box 775, Cambridge, Maryland 21613, USA 3National Marine Fisheries Service, 101 Pivers Island Rd, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA

The sulfur stable isotopic composition of Spartina alterniflora in a low salinity tidal creek system was related to differences in porewater sulfur chemistry determined by salinity, hydrodynamics, and season. The extent of porewater sulfide accumulation, the reoxidation of sulfide minerals, and sulfate limitation of sulfate reduction were important processes controlling the δ34S of the sulfur available for plant uptake. The influence of sedimentary sulfate reduction rates on S. alternifloraδ34S was demonstrated in the comparison of 2 sites with similar sulfate supply but differing hydrology; plant δ34S values were heavier where sediments were more oxidized relative to plant δ34S values from a frequently flooded marsh with more reduced sediments. The role of sulfate supply in determining S. alterniflora δ34S values was apparent in the comparison of 3 sites with similar hydrology but differing salinity; shoot δ34S decreased with increasing salinity. In low salinity marshes, oxidation of stored sulfide minerals in winter and spring led to lighter shoot δ34S values, while sulfate depletion in late summer was associated with isotopically heavier shoot sulfur. Variability on spatial and temporal scales in sulfur stable isotopic composition of S. alterniflora has implications for the use of its δ34S values in studies of trophic dynamics in estuarine marshes. The sulfur chemistry of the marsh sediments and the sampling season may both influence the stable isotopic signature of this important primary producer.


Spartinaalterniflora · Sulfur · Stable isotopes · Oligohaline marshes


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