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Concept: Salt marsh


Coastal salt marshes are highly sensitive wetland ecosystems that can sustain long-term impacts from anthropogenic events such as oil spills. In this study, we examined the microbial communities of a Gulf of Mexico coastal salt marsh during and after the influx of petroleum hydrocarbons following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Total hydrocarbon concentrations in salt marsh sediments were highest in June and July 2010 and decreased in September 2010. Coupled PhyloChip and GeoChip microarray analyses demonstrated that the microbial community structure and function of the extant salt marsh hydrocarbon-degrading microbial populations changed significantly during the study. The relative richness and abundance of phyla containing previously described hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria (Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Actinobacteria) increased in hydrocarbon-contaminated sediments and then decreased once hydrocarbons were below detection. Firmicutes, however, continued to increase in relative richness and abundance after hydrocarbon concentrations were below detection. Functional genes involved in hydrocarbon degradation were enriched in hydrocarbon-contaminated sediments then declined significantly (p<0.05) once hydrocarbon concentrations decreased. A greater decrease in hydrocarbon concentrations among marsh grass sediments compared to inlet sediments (lacking marsh grass) suggests that the marsh rhizosphere microbial communities could also be contributing to hydrocarbon degradation. The results of this study provide a comprehensive view of microbial community structural and functional dynamics within perturbed salt marsh ecosystems.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Petroleum, Marsh, Wetland, Swamp, Carbon, Salt marsh


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.

Concepts: Petroleum, Soil, Marsh, Coast, Swamp, Salt marsh, Fen, Tidal marsh


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.

Concepts: Marsh, Coast, Wind, Salt marsh, Extreme weather, Wind wave, Wave power, Tidal marsh


Seagrass meadows provide numerous ecosystem services and their rapid global loss may reduce human welfare as well as ecological integrity. In common with the other ‘blue carbon’ habitats (mangroves and tidal marshes) seagrasses are thought to provide coastal defence and encourage sediment stabilisation and surface elevation. A sophisticated understanding of sediment elevation dynamics in mangroves and tidal marshes has been gained by monitoring a wide range of different sites, located in varying hydrogeomorphological conditions over long periods. In contrast, similar evidence for seagrasses is sparse; the present study is a contribution towards filling this gap. Surface elevation change pins were deployed in four locations, Scotland, Kenya, Tanzania and Saudi Arabia, in both seagrass and unvegetated control plots in the low intertidal and shallow subtidal zone. The presence of seagrass had a highly significant, positive impact on surface elevation at all sites. Combined data from the current work and the literature show an average difference of 31 mm per year in elevation rates between vegetated and unvegetated areas, which emphasizes the important contribution of seagrass in facilitating sediment surface elevation and reducing erosion. This paper presents the first multi-site study for sediment surface elevation in seagrasses in different settings and species.

Concepts: Ecology, Coast, Saudi Arabia, Elevation, Intertidal zone, Salt marsh, Intertidal ecology, Seagrass


Mangrove forests have the potential to export carbon to adjacent ecosystems but whether mangrove-derived organic carbon (OC) would enhance the soil OC storage in seagrass meadows adjacent to mangroves is unclear. In this study we examine the potential for the contribution of mangrove OC to seagrass soils on the coast of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. We found that seagrass meadows adjacent to mangroves had significantly higher soil OC concentrations, soil OC with lower δ (13)C, and lower bulk density than those at the non-mangrove adjacent meadows. Soil OC storage to 30 cm depth ranged from 3.21 to 6.82 kg C m(-2), and was also significantly higher at the mangrove adjacent meadows than those non-adjacent meadows. δ(13)C analyses revealed that mangrove OC contributed 34 to 83% to soil OC at the mangrove adjacent meadows. The δ(13)C value of seagrass plants was also different between the seagrasses adjacent to mangroves and those which were not, with lower values measured at the seagrasses adjacent to mangroves. Moreover, we found significant spatial variation in both soil OC concentration and storage, with values decreasing toward sea, and the contribution of mangrove-derived carbon also reduced with distance from the forest.

Concepts: Density, Soil, Ecosystem, Carbon, Bulk density, Salt marsh, Mangrove, Seagrass


Salt marshes are valued for their ecosystem services, and their vulnerability is typically assessed through biotic and abiotic measurements at individual points on the landscape. However, lateral erosion can lead to rapid marsh loss as marshes build vertically. Marsh sediment budgets represent a spatially integrated measure of competing constructive and destructive forces: a sediment surplus may result in vertical growth and/or lateral expansion, while a sediment deficit may result in drowning and/or lateral contraction. Here we show that sediment budgets of eight microtidal marsh complexes consistently scale with areal unvegetated/vegetated marsh ratios (UVVR) suggesting these metrics are broadly applicable indicators of microtidal marsh vulnerability. All sites are exhibiting a sediment deficit, with half the sites having projected lifespans of less than 350 years at current rates of sea-level rise and sediment availability. These results demonstrate that open-water conversion and sediment deficits are holistic and sensitive indicators of salt marsh vulnerability.

Concepts: Marsh, Ecosystem, Swamp, Erosion, Salt marsh, Fen, Vertical integration, Tidal marsh


Salt marsh habitat loss to vegetation die-offs has accelerated throughout the western Atlantic in the last four decades. Recent studies have suggested that eutrophication, pollution and/or disease may contribute to the loss of marsh habitat. In light of recent evidence that predators are important determinants of marsh health in New England, we performed a total predator exclusion experiment. Here, we provide the first experimental evidence that predator depletion can cause salt marsh die-off by releasing the herbivorous crab Sesarma reticulatum from predator control. Excluding predators from a marsh ecosystem for a single growing season resulted in a >100% increase in herbivory and a >150% increase in unvegetated bare space compared to plots with predators. Our results confirm that marshes in this region face multiple, potentially synergistic threats.

Concepts: Causality, Predation, Marsh, Swamp, Experiment, Herbivore, Grapsoidea, Salt marsh


Predator depletion on Cape Cod (USA) has released the herbivorous crab Sesarmareticulatum from predator control leading to the loss of cordgrass from salt marsh creek banks. After more than three decades of die-off, cordgrass is recovering at heavily damaged sites coincident with the invasion of green crabs (Carcinusmaenas) into intertidal Sesarma burrows. We hypothesized that Carcinus is dependent on Sesarma burrows for refuge from physical and biotic stress in the salt marsh intertidal and reduces Sesarma functional density and herbivory through consumptive and non-consumptive effects, mediated by both visual and olfactory cues. Our results reveal that in the intertidal zone of New England salt marshes, Carcinus are burrow dependent, Carcinus reduce Sesarma functional density and herbivory in die-off areas and Sesarma exhibit a generic avoidance response to large, predatory crustaceans. These results support recent suggestions that invasive Carcinus are playing a role in the recovery of New England salt marshes and assertions that invasive species can play positive roles outside of their native ranges.

Concepts: Water, Predation, Ecology, Marsh, Swamp, Salt marsh, Mangrove, Carcinus maenas


Mangroves are species of halophytic intertidal trees and shrubs derived from tropical genera and are likely delimited in latitudinal range by varying sensitivity to cold. There is now sufficient evidence that mangrove species have proliferated at or near their poleward limits on at least five continents over the past half century, at the expense of salt marsh. Avicennia is the most cold-tolerant genus worldwide, and is the subject of most of the observed changes. Avicennia germinans has extended in range along the US Atlantic coast and expanded into salt marsh as a consequence of lower frost frequency and intensity in the southern USA. The genus has also expanded into salt marsh at its southern limit in Peru, and on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Mangroves of several species have expanded in extent and replaced salt marsh where protected within mangrove reserves in Guangdong Province. In south-eastern Australia, the expansion of Avicennia marina into salt marshes is now well documented, and Rhizophora stylosa has extended its range southward, while showing strong population growth within estuaries along its southern limits in northern New South Wales. Avicennia marina has extended its range southwards in South Africa. The changes are consistent with the pole-ward extension of temperature thresholds co-incident with sea-level rise, although the specific mechanism of range extension might be complicated by limitations on dispersal or other factors. The shift from salt marsh to mangrove dominance on subtropical and temperate shorelines has important implications for ecological structure, function, and global change adaptation. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Marsh, Australia, Southern United States, Salt marsh, Mangrove, Avicennia germinans, Avicennia


This paper aims at providing insight about bromine (Br) cycle in four Portuguese estuaries: Minho, Lima (in the NW coast) and Sado, Mira (in the SW coast). The focus is on their tidal marsh environments, quite distinct with regard to key biophysicochemical attributes. Regardless of the primary bromide (Br(-)) common natural source, i.e., seawater, the NW marshes present relatively higher surface soil/sediment Br concentrations than the ones from SW coast. This happens in close connection with organic matter (OM) content, and is controlled by their main climatic contexts. Yet, the anthropogenic impact on Br concentrations cannot be discarded. Regarding [Br] spatial patterns across the marshes, the results show a general increase from tidal flat toward high marsh. Maxima [Br] occur in the upper driftline zone, at transition from highest low marsh to high marsh, recognized as a privileged setting for OM accumulation. Based on the discovery of OM ubiquitous bromination in marine and transitional environments, it is assumed that this Br occurs mainly as organobromine. Analysis of two dated sediment cores indicates that, despite having the same age (AD ~1300), the Caminha salt marsh (Minho estuary) evidences higher Br enrichment than the Casa Branca salt marsh (Mira estuary). This is related to a greater Br storage ability, which is linked to OM build-up and rate dynamics under different climate scenarios. Both cores evidence a fairly similar temporal Br enrichment pattern, and may be interpreted in light of the sun-climate coupling. Thereby, most of the well-known Grand Solar Minima during the Little Ice Age appear to have left an imprint on these marshes, supported by higher [Br] in soils/sediments. Besides climate changes driven by solar activity and impacting marsh Br biogeodynamics, those Br enrichment peaks might also reflect inputs of enhanced volcanic activity covarying with Grand Solar Minima.

Concepts: Marsh, Climate change, Solar variation, Coastal geography, Bay mud, Salt marsh, Little Ice Age, Tidal marsh