Interactive Effects of Plant Species and Organic Carbon on Nitrate Removal in Chesapeake Bay Treatment Wetlands


Nitrate from agricultural runoff are a significant cause of algal blooms in estuarine ecosystems such as the Chesapeake Bay. These blooms block sunlight vital to submerged aquatic vegetation, leading to hypoxic areas. Natural and constructed wetlands have been shown to reduce the amount of nitrate flowing into adjacent bodies of water. We tested three wetland plant species native to Maryland, Typha latifolia (cattail), Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), and Schoenoplectus validus (soft-stem bulrush), in wetland microcosms to determine the effect of species combination and organic amendment on nitrate removal. In the first phase of our study, we found that microcosms containing sawdust exhibited significantly greater nitrate removal than microcosms amended with glucose or hay at a low nitrate loading rate. In the second phase of our study, we confirmed that combining these plants removed nitrate, although no one combination was significantly better. Furthermore, the above-ground biomass of microcosms containing switchgrass had a significantly greater percentage of carbon than microcosms without switchgrass, which can be studied for potential biofuel use. Based on our data, future environmental groups can make a more informed decision when choosing biofuel-capable plant species for artificial wetlands native to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.