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Results of a 12-yr study in an oligotrophic South Carolina salt marsh demonstrate that soil respiration increased by 795 g C m-2 yr-1 and that carbon inventories decreased in sediments fertilized with nitrogen and phosphorus. Fertilized plots became net sources of carbon to the atmosphere, and sediment respiration continues in these plots at an accelerated pace. After 12 yr of treatment, soil macroorganic matter in the top 5 cm of sediment was 475 g C m-2 lower in fertilized plots than in controls, which is equivalent to a constant loss rate of 40 g C m-2 yr-1. It is not known whether soil carbon in fertilized plots has reached a new equilibrium or continues to decline. The increase in soil respiration in the fertilized plots was far greater than the loss of sediment organic matter, which indicates that the increase in soil respiration was largely due to an increase in primary production. Sediment respiration in laboratory incubations also demonstrated positive effects of nutrients. Thus, the results indicate that increased nutrient loading of oligotrophic wetlands can lead to an increased rate of sediment carbon turnover and a net loss of carbon from sediments.
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Effects of nutrient loading on the carbon balance of coastal wetland sediments