Constructed treatment wetlands (CTW) are being increasingly utilized in urbanized areas as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly method for treating wastewater. CTWs can be especially useful for urban areas in aridland environments because they facilitate the reuse of water during water shortages. In my study, I determined the rates at which the aboveground and belowground emergent macrophytes sequestered nitrogen in a 42 ha aridland CTW in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. To do so, I measured foliar nitrogen content in aboveground and belowground biomass of three plant species groups (Typha latifolia + Typha domingensis, Schoenoplectus acutus + Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, and Schoenoplectus californicus). Using these data, I calculated aboveground and belowground nitrogen budgets for the three species groups annually from 2011 to 2018.
Aboveground nitrogen content showed a maximum in 2011, decreasing until 2015, increasing again until 2017, and dropping in 2018; belowground nitrogen content showed the opposite temporal trend. Because foliar nitrogen content was assumed to be relatively constant over time, my data suggested that belowground nitrogen content increased between 2011 and 2015 and decreased between 2015 and 2017. Aboveground nitrogen content underwent fluctuations due to fluctuations in aboveground biomass. This occurred due to ‘thatching’, or events of widespread toppling of large macrophyte stands. The ratio of aboveground to belowground biomass can vary widely in the same CTW. My findings suggested that managing senesced aboveground plant material in CTWs may optimize the CTW’s ability to sequester nitrogen. Further research is needed to determine the best management strategies, as well as its possible implications.