Hydric soil properties as influenced by land-use in Southeast Virginia wet flats
The accuracy of the growing season used by regulators in hydric soil and wetland hydrology and the validity of ignoring land use in these definitions is questionable. This study compared measured air and soil temperature with various growing season dates and indicators, and determined the relationships between the hydrology, air and soil temperature. Water table depths, air temperature at 1-m height, soil temperature at 15-, 30-, and 50-cm depths, and CO₂ efflux were measured at 12 plots representing three landuse treatments (forest, field, and bare ground) at two restored wet flats in the thermic Great Dismal Swamp ecosystem. The forest was driest treatment. The forest air was the warmest in winter and coldest in summer, opposite of the bare ground. The forest soil at 50 cm was the warmest in winter and coolest in summer, opposite of the bare ground. Land use affected hydrology, air, and soil temperatures through the presence of surface litter and differences in shading, albedo, and ET. The regulatory frost-free period fell in between the measured frost-free period and the measured 5°C soil temperature period. Based on CO₂ efflux and soil temperature at 50 cm, the biological growing season of native plants and microbes should be year-round for forested areas, one week shorter for early-successional fields, and two weeks shorter for active cropland rather than March to November for all land uses. Changing the growing season definition of forested, thermic wet flats to year-round designation must be considered and studied carefully to avoid jeopardizing wetland hydrology qualifications.