Nitrogen Uptake by Vegetation in the Wakkerstroom Wetland, South Africa

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract: The lack of proper wastewater treatment inhibits the social and economic development in many communities. The South African town Wakkerstroom is an example where wastewater is first treated before it is released. Due to the lack of technical expertise and funding to manage the sewage disposal system, a large part of the wastewater goes directly, without any treatment, into a stream feeding the Wakkerstroom wetland. The wetland purifies the wastewater and provides clean water downstream, thus is indispensable for its detoxification capacity. One relatively cheap method to determine the absorption capacity of a wetland with respect to nitrogen loading is to investigate the nitrogen uptake by the wetland vegetation. In this study, the nitrogen uptake of the vegetation in the Wakkerstroom wetland during the growing seasons between the years 2000-2018 was investigated by using harvested biomass and its nitrogen content as a proxy. The interannual variability of Net Primary Production (NPP) was calculated using a Light Use Efficiency (LUE) model for the period 2000-2018. The NPP derived with LUE-modelling was compared to NPP based on an end-of season harvest of biomass in March 2019. The nitrogen content and carbon and nitrogen (C:N) ratio were determined in the harvested biomass by carbon and nitrogen content analysis. The annual nitrogen uptake of the growing seasons between the years 2000-2018 was subsequently determined by multiplying the calculated NPP by the fraction of nitrogen found in the harvested material. The NPPtot based on harvested biomass (NPPharvest) towards the end of the growing season 2018/2019 was estimated to be 2.01 kg‧m-2‧season-1. The NPPtot calculated from LUE modelling (NPPLUE) varied between 0.49-1.64 kg‧m-2 for the growing seasons between 2000-2018. NPPharvest was between 1.2-4 times higher compared to NPPLUE, probably due to overestimation of NPPharvest because of biomass sampling of more than one-year production, or underestimation of NPPLUE due to a low maximum radiation conversion efficiency factor, εmax. The community mean nitrogen (N) content found in the biomass harvested aboveground was 1.29 % for the Phragmites community and 1.00 % for the Typha community. The nitrogen uptake of the vegetation was estimated to vary between 6.10-20.5 g N∙m-2 per growing season between the years 2000-2018.

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