Environmental scientists have known for years that excessive organic matter in a system can contribute to excessive nitrogen loads. Though aquatic plants need nitrogen excessive amounts can lead to algal blooms which in turn lead to reduce light for submerged plants and low dissolved oxygen, which can lead to fish kills. In heavily vegetated areas near streams there is a tremendous amount of leaf litter that potentially could enter the water and contribute to increase nitrogen. However most forested streams have little or no dissolved nitrogen within them. Where is the nitrogen released during the decomposition of the leaf litter going?
This year University of Florida scientist Dr. Stefan Gerber and a colleague from Montana State (Dr. Jack Brookshire) published work on a mathematical model that that follows nitrogen molecules. They discovered that a diffusion process within the soil and the absorption by the plant roots remove almost all of the nitrogen released from the decaying leaf litter on the forest floor. These results support the argument that naturally vegetated shorelines can help reduce nitrogen in local waterways.
The Escambia County Extension office has been educating local residents on the benefits of Living Shorelines and Florida Friendly Landscaped Yards for a number of years. If you are interested in how to re-landscape your property to reduce nitrogen in our local waterways you can contact Coastal Sustainability Agent Carrie Stevens (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sea Grant Agent Rick O’Connor (email@example.com) to learn more or schedule a program.