Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Large stands of Arundinaria gigantea (Walt.) Muhl., called canebrakes, were vital to wildlife and lowland ecosystem functions and historically covered millions of acres in the southeastern United States. Since European settlement, human disturbance (i.e, clearing for agriculture and fire suppression) has caused giant canebrakes to become critically endangered ecosystems. Increasing evidence suggests the loss of canebrakes has directly impacted riparian ecosystems, resulting in increased soil erosion, poorer water quality, and reduced flood control. Cane's ecological importance has led to an increased interest in canebrake restoration in riparian zones. To examine the role that cane plays in nutrient cycling and to attempt to determine targeted restoration sites, a four phase research strategy was designed to determine physical and chemical properties of existing riparian stands of native giant cane and their associated soils. Phase one was a GIS analysis to determine what geographical features may be used in selecting sites within a landscape suitable for canebrake restoration. First, common physical site characteristics for 140 existing southern Illinois canebrakes were determined. Soil taxonomy and pH were used to represent soil characteristics and percent slope was used as a topographic metric. These factors, combined with digital elevation models and land cover in GIS were used to identify the potential suitability of sites within the watershed for canebrake plantings and general riparian restoration. The following soil characteristics were determined to be associated with giant cane success: percentage of area containing slopes of 3 percent or less, fine to coarse-silty textures, pH of 5.3 - 6.7, effective cation exchange capacity of less than 30 units, available water holding capacity greater than 0.12, bulk density of 1.37 - 1.65 g cm-3, and percent clay of 11 - 55. Eighty-percent of existing giant cane sites were found within these slope and soil characteristics. The total area of potential riparian canebrake landscapes based on these parameters is 13,970 hectares (35,600 acres) within the Cache River watershed. The remaining three phases examined the role that cane plays in nutrient cycling. Phase two determined the pools and cycling of nitrogen and carbon in canebrakes and compared those to nearby agricultural and forested riparian areas. Phase three quantified the N2O and CO2 fluxes from canebrakes and adjacent forested areas. Phase four included methods to quantify nutrient content of leaf litter and live leaves from existing canebrakes to estimate the nutrient use efficiency of cane. Further, a decomposition study was conducted to calculate the decomposition rate of cane leaves and to explore the litter quality attributes of giant cane. The primary purpose of phase two was to compare the effects of perennial riparian vegetation (giant cane and forest) and annual crops on soil quality, nitrogen cycling, and physical properties. This was to determine if any of them have a significant influence on giant cane distribution, while focusing on nitrogen dynamics to help determine why giant cane is a successful riparian buffer species. Five study sites in the Cache River watershed that had cane, agricultural fields (corn-soybean rotation), and forested areas adjacent to one another were selected. Data were collected on soil texture, carbon/nitrogen ratios, bulk density, nitrogen content (as ammonia and nitrate), and net nitrogen mineralization rates. The crop sites had significantly lower soil C:N ratios than both forest and cane (9.8:1 vs. 10.9:1 and 10.7:1, respectively), though all sites had ratios less than 25:1, indicating a tendency toward nitrogen mineralization. Forest soils had significantly higher rates of net mineralization than cane (19.0 μg m-2 day-1 and 6.6 μg m-2 day-1, respectively), with crop not significantly different from either cane or forest (8.0 μg m-2 day-1). Cane had higher levels of soil carbon and nitrogen when compared to forest and crop soils. Cane can be successful in wetter areas than previously thought, implying that the range of conditions that will support cane is broader than previously thought. Overall, there were few identifiable soil controls on giant cane distribution, or those that differentiate long-standing canebrakes from the nearby crop and forest land. For Phase three, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide emissions were measured monthly for one year in riparian canebrakes and forests in southern Illinois to determine the rates of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes in bottomland riparian areas. Carbon dioxide emissions had a strong correlation with soil temperature (p < 0.001, r2= 0.54), but not with soil water content (p > 0.05), and were greater during the warmer months. Nitrous oxide emissions had a correlation with soil water content (p=0.470, r2 = 0.11), but no relation with soil temperature (p > 0.05), nor a difference across time. Vegetation type did not appear to influence GHG fluxes. Riparian CO2 and N2O emission rates were higher than documented cropland emissions, indicating riparian restoration projects to reduce NO3 delivery to streams may affect N2O and CO2 emissions resulting in an ecosystem tradeoff between water quality and air quality. Leaf deposition, N resorption efficiency and proficiency, and decomposition rates were analyzed in riparian stands of Arundinaria gigantea in southern Illinois for the first time in Phase four. Leaf litter was collected from five established canebrakes monthly over one year and a decomposition study was conducted over 72 weeks. Live leaves, freshly senesced leaves, and decomposed leaves were analyzed for carbon and nitrogen content. Leaf litterfall biomass peaked in November at twice the monthly average for all but one site, indicating a resemblance to deciduous leaf fall patterns. Nitrogen and carbon levels decreased 48% and 30%, respectively, between live leaves and 72 weeks decomposed. High soil moisture appeared to slow decomposition rates, perhaps due to the creation of anaerobic conditions. Cane leaves have low resorption proficiency and nutrient use proficiency, suggesting that these riparian canebrakes are not nitrogen limited. These results will help improve our understanding of the role that giant cane plays in a riparian ecosystem and help focus cane restoration efforts in southern Illinois.
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