The protective role of coastal marshes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Salt marshes lie between many human communities and the coast and have been presumed to protect these communities from coastal hazards by providing important ecosystem services. However, previous characterizations of these ecosystem services have typically been based on a small number of historical studies, and the consistency and extent to which marshes provide these services has not been investigated. Here, we review the current evidence for the specific processes of wave attenuation, shoreline stabilization and floodwater attenuation to determine if and under what conditions salt marshes offer these coastal protection services. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We conducted a thorough search and synthesis of the literature with reference to these processes. Seventy-five publications met our selection criteria, and we conducted meta-analyses for publications with sufficient data available for quantitative analysis. We found that combined across all studies (n?=?7), salt marsh vegetation had a significant positive effect on wave attenuation as measured by reductions in wave height per unit distance across marsh vegetation. Salt marsh vegetation also had a significant positive effect on shoreline stabilization as measured by accretion, lateral erosion reduction, and marsh surface elevation change (n?=?30). Salt marsh characteristics that were positively correlated to both wave attenuation and shoreline stabilization were vegetation density, biomass production, and marsh size. Although we could not find studies quantitatively evaluating floodwater attenuation within salt marshes, there are several studies noting the negative effects of wetland alteration on water quantity regulation within coastal areas. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our results show that salt marshes have value for coastal hazard mitigation and climate change adaptation. Because we do not yet fully understand the magnitude of this value, we propose that decision makers employ natural systems to maximize the benefits and ecosystem services provided by salt marshes and exercise caution when making decisions that erode these services.
Project description:More than 2 y have passed since the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, yet we still have little understanding of its ecological impacts. Examining effects of this oil spill will generate much-needed insight into how shoreline habitats and the valuable ecological services they provide (e.g., shoreline protection) are affected by and recover from large-scale disturbance. Here we report on not only rapid salt-marsh recovery (high resilience) but also permanent marsh area loss after the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Field observations, experimental manipulations, and wave-propagation modeling reveal that (i) oil coverage was primarily concentrated on the seaward edge of marshes; (ii) there were thresholds of oil coverage that were associated with severity of salt-marsh damage, with heavy oiling leading to plant mortality; (iii) oil-driven plant death on the edges of these marshes more than doubled rates of shoreline erosion, further driving marsh platform loss that is likely to be permanent; and (iv) after 18 mo, marsh grasses have largely recovered into previously oiled, noneroded areas, and the elevated shoreline retreat rates observed at oiled sites have decreased to levels at reference marsh sites. This paper highlights that heavy oil coverage on the shorelines of Louisiana marshes, already experiencing elevated retreat because of intense human activities, induced a geomorphic feedback that amplified this erosion and thereby set limits to the recovery of otherwise resilient vegetation. It thus warns of the enhanced vulnerability of already degraded marshes to heavy oil coverage and provides a clear example of how multiple human-induced stressors can interact to hasten ecosystem decline.
Project description:Living shorelines are a type of estuarine shoreline erosion control that incorporates native vegetation and preserves native habitats. Because they provide the ecosystem services associated with natural coastal wetlands while also increasing shoreline resilience, living shorelines are part of the natural and hybrid infrastructure approach to coastal resiliency. Marshes created as living shorelines are typically narrow (< 30 m) fringing marshes with sandy substrates that are well flushed by tides. These characteristics distinguish living shorelines from the larger meadow marshes in which most of the current knowledge about created marshes was developed. The value of living shorelines for providing both erosion control and habitat for estuarine organisms has been documented but their capacity for carbon sequestration has not. We measured carbon sequestration rates in living shorelines and sandy transplanted Spartina alterniflora marshes in the Newport River Estuary, North Carolina. The marshes sampled here range in age from 12 to 38 years and represent a continuum of soil development. Carbon sequestration rates ranged from 58 to 283 g C m-2 yr-1 and decreased with marsh age. The pattern of lower sequestration rates in older marshes is hypothesized to be the result of a relative enrichment of labile organic matter in younger sites and illustrates the importance of choosing mature marshes for determination of long-term carbon sequestration potential. The data presented here are within the range of published carbon sequestration rates for S. alterniflora marshes and suggest that wide-scale use of the living shoreline approach to shoreline management may come with a substantial carbon benefit.
Project description:The Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected hundreds of kilometers of coastal wetland shorelines, including salt marshes with persistent heavy oiling that required intensive shoreline "cleanup" treatment. Oiled marsh treatment involves a delicate balance among: removing oil, speeding the degradation of remaining oil, protecting wildlife, fostering habitat recovery, and not causing further ecological damage with treatment. To examine the effectiveness and ecological effects of treatment during the emergency response, oiling characteristics and ecological parameters were compared over two years among heavily oiled test plots subject to: manual treatment, mechanical treatment, natural recovery (no treatment, oiled control), as well as adjacent reference conditions. An additional experiment compared areas with and without vegetation planting following treatment. Negative effects of persistent heavy oiling on marsh vegetation, intertidal invertebrates, and shoreline erosion were observed. In areas without treatment, oiling conditions and negative effects for most marsh parameters did not considerably improve over two years. Both manual and mechanical treatment were effective at improving oiling conditions and vegetation characteristics, beginning the recovery process, though recovery was not complete by two years. Mechanical treatment had additional negative effects of mixing oil into the marsh soils and further accelerating erosion. Manual treatment appeared to strike the right balance between improving oiling and habitat conditions while not causing additional detrimental effects. However, even with these improvements, marsh periwinkle snails showed minimal signs of recovery through two years, suggesting that some ecosystem components may lag vegetation recovery. Planting following treatment quickened vegetation recovery and reduced shoreline erosion. Faced with comparable marsh oiling in the future, we would recommend manual treatment followed by planting. We caution against the use of intensive treatment methods with lesser marsh oiling. Oiled controls (no treatment "set-asides") are essential for judging marsh treatment effectiveness and ecological effects; we recommend their use when applying intensive treatment methods.
Project description:Salt marsh losses have been documented worldwide because of land use change, wave erosion, and sea-level rise. It is still unclear how resistant salt marshes are to extreme storms and whether they can survive multiple events without collapsing. Based on a large dataset of salt marsh lateral erosion rates collected around the world, here, we determine the general response of salt marsh boundaries to wave action under normal and extreme weather conditions. As wave energy increases, salt marsh response to wind waves remains linear, and there is not a critical threshold in wave energy above which salt marsh erosion drastically accelerates. We apply our general formulation for salt marsh erosion to historical wave climates at eight salt marsh locations affected by hurricanes in the United States. Based on the analysis of two decades of data, we find that violent storms and hurricanes contribute less than 1% to long-term salt marsh erosion rates. In contrast, moderate storms with a return period of 2.5 mo are those causing the most salt marsh deterioration. Therefore, salt marshes seem more susceptible to variations in mean wave energy rather than changes in the extremes. The intrinsic resistance of salt marshes to violent storms and their predictable erosion rates during moderate events should be taken into account by coastal managers in restoration projects and risk management plans.
Project description:Coastal salt marshes along the northern Gulf of Mexico shoreline received varied types and amounts of weathered oil residues after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. At the time, predicting how marsh bacterial communities would respond and/or recover to oiling and other environmental stressors was difficult because baseline information on community composition and dynamics was generally unavailable. Here, we evaluated marsh vegetation, physicochemistry, flooding frequency, hydrocarbon chemistry, and subtidal sediment bacterial communities from 16S rRNA gene surveys at 11 sites in southern Louisiana before the oil spill and resampled the same marshes three to four times over 38 months after the spill. Calculated hydrocarbon biomarker indices indicated that oil replaced native natural organic matter (NOM) originating from Spartina alterniflora and marine phytoplankton in the marshes between May 2010 and September 2010. At all the studied marshes, the major class- and order-level shifts among the phyla Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Actinobacteria occurred within these first 4 months, but another community shift occurred at the time of peak oiling in 2011. Two years later, hydrocarbon levels decreased and bacterial communities became more diverse, being dominated by Alphaproteobacteria (Rhizobiales), Chloroflexi (Dehalococcoidia), and Planctomycetes Compositional changes through time could be explained by NOM source differences, perhaps due to vegetation changes, as well as marsh flooding and salinity excursions linked to freshwater diversions. These findings indicate that persistent hydrocarbon exposure alone did not explain long-term community shifts.IMPORTANCE Significant deterioration of coastal salt marshes in Louisiana has been linked to natural and anthropogenic stressors that can adversely affect how ecosystems function. Although microorganisms carry out and regulate most biogeochemical reactions, the diversity of bacterial communities in coastal marshes is poorly known, with limited investigation of potential changes in bacterial communities in response to various environmental stressors. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill provided an unprecedented opportunity to study the long-term effects of an oil spill on microbial systems in marshes. Compared to previous studies, the significance of our research stems from (i) a broader geographic range of studied marshes, (ii) an extended time frame of data collection that includes prespill conditions, (iii) a more accurate procedure using biomarker indices to understand oiling, and (iv) an examination of other potential stressors linked to in situ environmental changes, aside from oil exposure.
Project description:This study challenges the paradigm that salt marsh plants prevent lateral wave-induced erosion along wetland edges by binding soil with live roots and clarifies the role of vegetation in protecting the coast. In both laboratory flume studies and controlled field experiments, we show that common salt marsh plants do not significantly mitigate the total amount of erosion along a wetland edge. We found that the soil type is the primary variable that influences the lateral erosion rate and although plants do not directly reduce wetland edge erosion, they may do so indirectly via modification of soil parameters. We conclude that coastal vegetation is best-suited to modify and control sedimentary dynamics in response to gradual phenomena like sea-level rise or tidal forces, but is less well-suited to resist punctuated disturbances at the seaward margin of salt marshes, specifically breaking waves.
Project description:The impacts of sea-level rise (SLR) on coastal ecosystems have attracted worldwide attention in relation to global change. In this study, the salt marsh model for the Yangtze Estuary (SMM-YE, developed in China) and the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM, developed in the U.S.) were used to simulate the effects of SLR on the coastal salt marshes in eastern China. The changes in the dominant species in the plant community were also considered. Predictions based on the SLAMM indicated a trend of habitat degradation up to 2100; total salt marsh habitat area continued to decline (4-16%) based on the low-level scenario, with greater losses (6-25%) predicted under the high-level scenario. The SMM-YE showed that the salt marshes could be resilient to threats of SLR through the processes of accretion of mudflats, vegetation expansion and sediment trapping by plants. This model predicted that salt marsh areas increased (3-6%) under the low-level scenario. The decrease in the total habitat area with the SMM-YE under the high-level scenario was much lower than the SLAMM prediction. Nevertheless, SLR might negatively affect the salt marsh species that are not adapted to prolonged inundation. An adaptive strategy for responding to changes in sediment resources is necessary in the Yangtze Estuary.
Project description:Invasive species can positively, neutrally, or negatively affect the provision of ecosystem services. The direction and magnitude of this effect can be a function of the invaders' density and the service(s) of interest. We assessed the density-dependent effect of an invasive marsh grass, Phragmites australis, on three ecosystem services (plant diversity and community structure, shoreline stabilization, and carbon storage) in two oligohaline marshes within the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NCNERR), USA. Plant species richness was equivalent among low, medium and high Phragmites density plots, and overall plant community composition did not vary significantly by Phragmites density. Shoreline change was most negative (landward retreat) where Phragmites density was highest (-0.40 ± 0.19 m yr-1 vs. -0.31 ± 0.10 for low density Phragmites) in the high energy marsh of Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve and most positive (soundward advance) where Phragmites density was highest (0.19 ± 0.05 m yr-1 vs. 0.12 ± 0.07 for low density Phragmites) in the lower energy marsh of Currituck Banks Reserve, although there was no significant effect of Phragmites density on shoreline change. In Currituck Banks, mean soil carbon content was approximately equivalent in cores extracted from low and high Phragmites density plots (23.23 ± 2.0 kg C m-3 vs. 22.81 ± 3.8). In Kitty Hawk Woods, mean soil carbon content was greater in low Phragmites density plots (36.63 ± 10.22 kg C m-3) than those with medium (13.99 ± 1.23 kg C m-3) or high density (21.61 ± 4.53 kg C m-3), but differences were not significant. These findings suggest an overall neutral density-dependent effect of Phragmites on three ecosystem services within two oligohaline marshes in different environmental settings within a protected reserve system. Moreover, the conceptual framework of this study can broadly inform an ecosystem services-based approach to invasive species management.
Project description:This article contains data on the effects of seagrass decline on wave energy along the shoreline of Barnegat Bay (USA) previously evaluated in Donatelli et al., 2019. This study was carried out applying the Coupled-Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave-Sediment Transport (COAWST) numerical modelling framework to six historical maps of seagrass distribution. A new routine recently implemented in COAWST was used, which explicitly computes the wave thrust acting on salt marsh boundaries. The numerical modelling results are reported in terms of wind-wave heights for different seagrass coverages, wind speeds and directions. From a comparison with a numerical experiment without submerged aquatic vegetation, we show how the computed wave thrust on marsh boundaries can be reduced by seagrass beds.
Project description:Tidal channel networks mediate the exchange of water, nutrients and sediment between an estuary and marshes. Biology feeds back into channel morphodynamics through the influence of vegetation on both flow and the cohesive strength of channel banks. Determining how vegetation affects channel networks is essential in understanding the biological functioning of intertidal ecosystems and their ecosystem services. However, the processes that control the formation of an efficient tidal channel network remain unclear. Here we compare the channel networks of vegetated salt marshes in Massachusetts and the Venice Lagoon to unvegetated systems in the arid environments of the Gulf of California and Yemen. We find that the unvegetated systems are dissected by less efficient channel networks than the vegetated salt marshes. These differences in network geometry reflect differences in the branching and meandering of the channels in the network, characteristics that are related to the density of vegetation on the marsh.