Measurements of litter fall (leaves and other particulate organic material) and leaf decomposition were made on the bottom-land hardwood swamp of the Apalachicola River flood plain in 1979-80. Litter fall was collected monthly from nets located in 16 study plots. The plots represented five forest types in the swamp and levee areas of the Apalachicola River flood plain. Forty-three species of trees, vines, and other plants contributed to the total litter fall, but more than 90 percent of the leaf material originated from 12 species. Nonleaf material made up 42 percent of the total litter fall. Average litter fall was determined to be 800 grams per square meter per year, resulting in an annual deposition of 3.6 ? 105 metric tons of organic material in the 454-square-kilometer flood plain.
The levee communities have less tree biomass but greater tree diversity than do swamp communities. The levee vegetation, containing less tree biomass, produces slightly more litter fall per unit of ground surface area than does the swamp vegetation. The swamps are dominated by three genera: tupelo (Nyssa), cypress (Taxodium) and ash (Fraxinus). These genera account for more than 50 percent of the total leaf fall in the flood plain, but they are the least productive, on a weight-perbiomass basis, of any of the 12 major leaf producers.
Decomposition rates of leaves from five common floodplain tree species were measured using a standard leaf-bag technique. Leaf decomposition was highly species dependent. Tupelo (Nyssa spp.) and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) leaves decomposed completely in 6 months when flooded by river water. Leaves of baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) and diamond-leaf oak (Quercus laurifolia) were much more resistant. Water hickory (Carya aquatica) leaves showed intermediate decomposition rates. Decomposition of all species was greatly reduced in dry environments. Carbon and biomass loss rates from the leaves were nearly linear over a 6-month period, but nitrogen and phosphorus leaching was nearly complete within 1 month. Much of the organic substance may be recycled in the forest ecosystem, but annual flooding of the river provides an important mechanism for mobilization of the litter-fall products.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Production and decomposition of forest litter fall on the Apalachicola River flood plain, Florida: Chapter B, Apalachicola River quality assessment