Stable isotopes track the ecological and biogeochemical legacy of mass mangrove forest dieback in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia

Yota Harada, Rod M. Connolly, Brian Fry, Damien T. Maher, James Z. Sippo, Luke C. Jeffrey, Adam J. Bourke, Shing Yip Lee

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    A combination of elemental analysis, bulk stable isotope analysis (bulk SIA) and compound-specific stable isotope analysis of amino acids (CSIA-AA) was used to assess and monitor carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S) cycling of a mangrove ecosystem that suffered mass dieback of trees in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia in 2015–2016, attributed to an extreme drought event. Three field campaigns were conducted 8, 20 and 32 months after the event over a period from 2016 to 2018 to obtain biological time-series data. Invertebrates and associated organic matter including mangroves and sediments from the impacted ecosystem showed enrichment in 13C, 15N and 34S relative to those from an adjacent unimpacted reference ecosystem, likely indicating lower mangrove carbon fixation, lower nitrogen fixation and lower sulfate reduction in the impacted ecosystem. For example, invertebrates representing the feeding types of grazing, leaf feeding and algae feeding were more 13C enriched at the impacted site, by 1.7 –4.1 , and these differences did not change over the period from 2016 to 2018. The CSIA-AA data indicated widespread 13C enrichment across five essential amino acids and all groups sampled (except filter feeders) within the impacted site. The seedling density increased from 0.2 m−2 in 2016 to 7.1 m−2 in 2018 in the impacted forest, suggesting recovery of the vegetation. Recovery of CNS cycling, however, was not evident even after 32 months, suggesting a biogeochemical legacy of the mortality event. Continued monitoring of the post-dieback forest is required to predict the long-term trajectory of ecosystem recovery. This study shows that time-series SIA can track biogeochemical changes over time and evaluate recovery of an impacted ecosystem from an extreme event.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5599-5613
    Number of pages15
    Issue number22
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2020


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