Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Rima B. Franklin


In wetland soils, hydrology is considered to be one of the primary factors shaping wetland function and microbial community structure, but plant-soil interactions are also important mechanisms affecting microbial nutrient transformations. The research presented here considered the interactive effect to describe how hydrology and the presence of plants alter the soil profile, the development of the bacterial community, and their associated functions. To achieve this goal, plots were established in three hydrologically-distinct regimes (Wet, Intermediate, and Dry) within a non-tidal freshwater wetland along the James River (Charles City County, Virginia). Inside each main plot, ten subplots were cleared of all aboveground plant material; five plots were left to re-grow (“Vegetated” reference), while the remaining five were weeded each week to maintain bare soil (“Clipped” treatment subplots). Manipulations were started at the beginning of the growing season, and sampling continued until the following winter. Every eight weeks, soil cores (30 cm) were collected and analyzed for a variety of soil properties (e.g., pH, OM, C:N, redox, vegetation and root biomass), microbial community structure (16S-rDNA-based T-RFLP),bacterial abundance (Acridine Orange Direct Count), and soil function (Extracellular Enzyme Activity (EEA)). A mixed-effects repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to better understand how each variable responded within each hydrological regime and treatment. Principal component analysis (PCA) and Partial Mantel tests were used to elucidate how saturation and vegetation influence the microbial community structure and soil enzyme function. Bacterial community properties and soil functions followed differences in soil saturation and associated physicochemical parameters (i.e., pH and redox). Correlations with wetland vegetation were primarily related to seasonal changes in plant community composition and biomass, and differences between experimental treatments were small. Evidence suggests the present plant species and the amount of above- and belowground biomass plays a more selective role shaping bacterial communities and soil function. Due to the short-term of this study and tight soil correlations, it is difficult to determine if observed differences are a product of the plant community or soil saturation, but it is clear that each is important. Based on the literature, plant effects were smaller in this wetland than might be expected. This experiment took place in a recently exposed lake basin, so plant-soil-microbe interaction may not be well established. As the wetland matures, relative importance of vegetation is expected to increase and impact bacterial composition and function. Collectively, these results demonstrate that wetlands are not a product of one separate variable, but result from various factors interlinked to shape microbial communities and soil functions.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

August 2010

Included in

Biology Commons