Retreating marsh shoreline creates hotspots of high-marsh plant diversity.
ABSTRACT: Marsh edge retreat by wave erosion, an ubiquitous process along estuaries, could affect vegetation dynamics in ways that differ from well-established elevation-driven interactions. Along the marshes of Delaware Bay (USA) we show that species composition from marsh edge to interior is driven by gradients in wave stress, bed elevation, and sediment deposition. At the marsh edge, large wave stress allows only short-statured species. Approximately 17m landward, decreasing wave stress and increasing deposition cause the formation of a ridge. There, high marsh fugitive and shrub species prevails. Both the marsh edge and the ridge retreat synchronously by several meters per year causing wave energy and deposition to change rapidly. Yet, the whole ecogeomorphologic profile translates landward in a dynamic equilibrium, where the low marsh replaces the high marsh ridge community and the high marsh ridge community replaces the mid-marsh grasses on the marsh plain. A plant competition model shows that the disturbances associated with sediment deposition are necessary for the high marsh species to outcompete the mid-marsh grasses during rapid transgression. Marsh retreat creates a moving framework of physical gradients and disturbances that promote the co-existence of over ten different species adjacent to the marsh edge in an otherwise species-poor landscape.
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:Tidal marshes rank among Earth's vulnerable ecosystems, which will retreat if future rates of relative sea-level rise (RSLR) exceed marshes' ability to accrete vertically. Here, we assess the limits to marsh vulnerability by analyzing >780 Holocene reconstructions of tidal marsh evolution in Great Britain. These reconstructions include both transgressive (tidal marsh retreat) and regressive (tidal marsh expansion) contacts. The probability of a marsh retreat was conditional upon Holocene rates of RSLR, which varied between -7.7 and 15.2?mm/yr. Holocene records indicate that marshes are nine times more likely to retreat than expand when RSLR rates are ?7.1?mm/yr. Coupling estimated probabilities of marsh retreat with projections of future RSLR suggests a major risk of tidal marsh loss in the twenty-first century. All of Great Britain has a >80% probability of a marsh retreat under Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 by 2100, with areas of southern and eastern England achieving this probability by 2040.
Project description:Habitat reconstruction is commonly employed to restore degraded estuarine habitats and lost ecological functions. In this study, we use a combination of stable isotope analyses and macrofauna community analysis to compare the ecological structure and function between a recently constructed Spartina alterniflora salt marsh and a natural reference habitat over a 2-year period. The restored marsh was successful in providing habitat for economically and ecologically important macrofauna taxa; supporting similar or greater density, biomass, and species richness to the natural reference during all but one sampling period. Stable isotope analyses revealed that communities from the natural and the restored marshes relied on a similar diversity of food resources and that decapods had similar trophic levels. However, some generalist consumers (Palaemonetes spp. and Penaeus aztecus) were more 13C-enriched in the natural marsh, indicating a greater use of macrophyte derived organic matter relative to restored marsh counterparts. This difference was attributed to the higher quantities of macrophyte detritus and organic carbon in natural marsh sediments. Reduced marsh flooding frequency was associated with a reduction in macrofaunal biomass and decapod trophic levels. The restored marsh edge occurred at lower elevations than natural marsh edge, apparently due to reduced fetch and wind-wave exposure provided by the protective berm structures. The lower elevation of the restored marsh edge mitigated negative impacts in sampling periods with low tidal elevations that affected the natural marsh. The results of this study highlight the importance of considering sediment characteristics and elevation in salt marsh constructions.
Project description:Ecosystem boundary retreat due to human-induced pressure is a generally observed phenomenon. However, studies that document thresholds beyond which internal resistance mechanisms are overwhelmed are uncommon. Following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, field studies from a few sites suggested that oiling of salt marshes could lead to a biogeomorphic feedback where plant death resulted in increased marsh erosion. We tested for spatial generality of and thresholds in this effect across 103 salt marsh sites spanning ~430?kilometers of shoreline in coastal Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, using data collected as part of the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA). Our analyses revealed a threshold for oil impacts on marsh edge erosion, with higher erosion rates occurring for ~1-2 years after the spill at sites with the highest amounts of plant stem oiling (90-100%). These results provide compelling evidence showing large-scale ecosystem loss following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. More broadly, these findings provide rare empirical evidence identifying a geomorphologic threshold in the resistance of an ecosystem to increasing intensity of human-induced disturbance.
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: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:Sea-level rise (SLR) impacts on intertidal habitat depend on coastal topology, accretion, and constraints from surrounding development. Such habitat changes might affect species like Belding's savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi; BSSP), which live in high-elevation salt marsh in the Southern California Bight. To predict how BSSP habitat might change under various SLR scenarios, we first constructed a suitability model by matching bird observations with elevation. We then mapped current BSSP breeding and foraging habitat at six estuarine sites by applying the elevation-suitability model to digital elevation models. To estimate changes in digital elevation models under different SLR scenarios, we used a site-specific, one-dimensional elevation model (wetland accretion rate model of ecosystem resilience). We then applied our elevation-suitability model to the projected digital elevation models. The resulting maps suggest that suitable breeding and foraging habitat could decline as increased inundation converts middle- and high-elevation suitable habitat to mudflat and subtidal zones. As a result, the highest SLR scenario predicted that no suitable breeding or foraging habitat would remain at any site by 2100 and 2110. Removing development constraints to facilitate landward migration of high salt marsh, or redistributing dredge spoils to replace submerged habitat, might create future high salt marsh habitat, thereby reducing extirpation risk for BSSP in southern California.
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:<h4>Background and aims</h4>Ecosystem-based flood defence including salt-marsh as a key component is increasingly applied worldwide due to its multifunctionality and cost-effectiveness. While numerous experiments have explored the wave-attenuation effects of salt-marsh plants critical to flood protection, little is known about the physiological and biochemical responses of these species to continuous wave exposure.<h4>Methods</h4>To address this knowledge gap, we developed a shallow-water wave simulator to expose individual Spartina alterniflora plants to waves in a greenhouse for 8 weeks. S. alterniflora individuals were partially submerged and experienced horizontal sinusoidal motion to mimic plant exposure to shallow water waves. A factorial experiment was used to test the effects of three wave heights (4.1 cm, 5.5 cm and a no-wave control) and two wave periods (2 s and 3 s) on the following key physiological and biochemical plant parameters: plant growth, antioxidant defence and photosynthetic capacity.<h4>Key results</h4>Comparison of wave treatment and control groups supported our hypotheses that wave exposure leads to oxidative stress in plants and suppresses plant photosynthetic capacity and thereby growth. In response, the wave-exposed plants exhibited activated antioxidant enzymes. Comparison between the different wave treatment groups suggested the wave effects to be generally correlated positively with wave height and negatively with wave period, i.e. waves with greater height and frequency imposed more stress on plants. In addition, wave-exposed plants tended to allocate more biomass to their roots. Such allocation is favourable because it enhances root anchorage against the wave impact.<h4>Conclusions</h4>Simulated wave exposure systems such as the one used here are an effective tool for studying the response of salt-marsh plants to long-term wave exposure, and so help inform ecosystem-based flood defence projects in terms of plant selection, suitable transplantation locations and timing, etc. Given the projected variability of the global wave environment due to climate change, understanding plant response to long-term wave exposure has important implications for salt-marsh conservation and its central role in natural flood defence.
Project description:High rates of wave-induced erosion along salt marsh boundaries challenge the idea that marsh survival is dictated by the competition between vertical sediment accretion and relative sea-level rise. Because waves pounding marshes are often locally generated in enclosed basins, the depth and width of surrounding tidal flats have a pivoting control on marsh erosion. Here, we show the existence of a threshold width for tidal flats bordering salt marshes. Once this threshold is exceeded, irreversible marsh erosion takes place even in the absence of sea-level rise. This catastrophic collapse occurs because of the positive feedbacks among tidal flat widening by wave-induced marsh erosion, tidal flat deepening driven by wave bed shear stress, and local wind wave generation. The threshold width is determined by analyzing the 50-y evolution of 54 marsh basins along the US Atlantic Coast. The presence of a critical basin width is predicted by a dynamic model that accounts for both horizontal marsh migration and vertical adjustment of marshes and tidal flats. Variability in sediment supply, rather than in relative sea-level rise or wind regime, explains the different critical width, and hence erosion vulnerability, found at different sites. We conclude that sediment starvation of coastlines produced by river dredging and damming is a major anthropogenic driver of marsh loss at the study sites and generates effects at least comparable to the accelerating sea-level rise due to global warming.