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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.

SUBMITTER: Elsey-Quirk T 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC6453922 | BioStudies | 2019-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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