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Concept: Tidal 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


Australia’s tidal marshes have suffered significant losses but their recently recognised importance in CO2 sequestration is creating opportunities for their protection and restoration. We compiled all available data on soil organic carbon (OC) storage in Australia’s tidal marshes (323 cores). OC stocks in the surface 1 m averaged 165.41 (SE 6.96) Mg OC ha(-1) (range 14-963 Mg OC ha(-1)). The mean OC accumulation rate was 0.55 ± 0.02 Mg OC ha(-1) yr(-1). Geomorphology was the most important predictor of OC stocks, with fluvial sites having twice the stock of OC as seaward sites. Australia’s 1.4 million hectares of tidal marshes contain an estimated 212 million tonnes of OC in the surface 1 m, with a potential CO2-equivalent value of $USD7.19 billion. Annual sequestration is 0.75 Tg OC yr(-1), with a CO2-equivalent value of $USD28.02 million per annum. This study provides the most comprehensive estimates of tidal marsh blue carbon in Australia, and illustrates their importance in climate change mitigation and adaptation, acting as CO2 sinks and buffering the impacts of rising sea level. We outline potential further development of carbon offset schemes to restore the sequestration capacity and other ecosystem services provided by Australia tidal marshes.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Soil, Marsh, Charcoal, Global warming, Carbon capture and storage, Tidal marsh, Biosequestration


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


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


Tidal marshes maintain elevation relative to sea level through accumulation of mineral and organic matter, yet this dynamic accumulation feedback mechanism has not been modeled widely in the context of accelerated sea-level rise. Uncertainties exist about tidal marsh resiliency to accelerated sea-level rise, reduced sediment supply, reduced plant productivity under increased inundation, and limited upland habitat for marsh migration. We examined marsh resiliency under these uncertainties using the Marsh Equilibrium Model, a mechanistic, elevation-based soil cohort model, using a rich data set of plant productivity and physical properties from sites across the estuarine salinity gradient. Four tidal marshes were chosen along this gradient: two islands and two with adjacent uplands. Varying century sea-level rise (52, 100, 165, 180 cm) and suspended sediment concentrations (100%, 50%, and 25% of current concentrations), we simulated marsh accretion across vegetated elevations for 100 years, applying the results to high spatial resolution digital elevation models to quantify potential changes in marsh distributions. At low rates of sea-level rise and mid-high sediment concentrations, all marshes maintained vegetated elevations indicative of mid/high marsh habitat. With century sea-level rise at 100 and 165 cm, marshes shifted to low marsh elevations; mid/high marsh elevations were found only in former uplands. At the highest century sea-level rise and lowest sediment concentrations, the island marshes became dominated by mudflat elevations. Under the same sediment concentrations, low salinity brackish marshes containing highly productive vegetation had slower elevation loss compared to more saline sites with lower productivity. A similar trend was documented when comparing against a marsh accretion model that did not model vegetation feedbacks. Elevation predictions using the Marsh Equilibrium Model highlight the importance of including vegetation responses to sea-level rise. These results also emphasize the importance of adjacent uplands for long-term marsh survival and incorporating such areas in conservation planning efforts.

Concepts: Oceanography, Marsh, Geodesy, Tidal marsh


Drought has many consequences in the tidally dominatedSpartinasp. salt marshes of the southeastern US; including major dieback events, changes in sediment chemistry and obvious changes in the landscape. These coastal systems tend to be highly productive, yet many salt marshes are also nitrogen limited and depend on plant associated diazotrophs as their source of ‘new’ nitrogen. A 4-year study was conducted to investigate the structure and composition of the rhizosphere diazotroph assemblages associated with 5 distinct plant zones in one such salt marsh. A period of greatly restricted tidal inundation and precipitation, as well as two periods of drought (June-July 2004, and May 2007) occurred during the study. DGGE ofnifH PCR amplicons from rhizosphere samples, Principal Components Analysis of the resulting banding patterns, and unconstrained ordination analysis of taxonomic data and environmental parameters were conducted. Diazotroph assemblages were organized into 5 distinct groups (R² = 0.41,pvalue < 0.001) whose presence varied with the environmental conditions of the marsh. Diazotroph assemblage group detection differed during and after the drought event, indicating that persistent diazotrophs maintained populations that provided reduced supplies of new nitrogen for vegetation during the periods of drought.

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


A declining rate of recovery following disturbance has been proposed as an important early warning for impending tipping points in complex systems. Despite extensive theoretical and laboratory studies, this ‘critical slowing down’ remains largely untested in the complex settings of real-world ecosystems. Here, we provide both observational and experimental support of critical slowing down along natural stress gradients in tidal marsh ecosystems. Time series of aerial images of European marsh development reveal a consistent lengthening of recovery time as inundation stress increases. We corroborate this finding with transplantation experiments in European and North American tidal marshes. In particular, our results emphasize the power of direct observational or experimental measures of recovery over indirect statistical signatures, such as spatial variance or autocorrelation. Our results indicate that the phenomenon of critical slowing down can provide a powerful tool to probe the resilience of natural ecosystems.

Concepts: Statistics, Physics, Marsh, Experiment, Nature, Ecological succession, Biodiversity Action Plan, Tidal marsh


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


Two 454 shotgun metagenomes were sequenced from hypersaline soil samples collected in the Odiel salt marsh area in Huelva, southwestern Spain. Analysis of contigs and 16S rRNA-related sequences showed thatHalobacteria,Balneolaeota, andBacteroideteswere the dominant groups.RhodothermaeotaandNanohaloarchaeotawere also abundant.

Concepts: Archaea, Soil, Marsh, Swamp, Sequence, Salt marsh, Fen, Tidal marsh


Climate change and other anthropogenic stressors are converging on coastal ecosystems worldwide. Understanding how these stressors interact to affect ecosystem structure and function has immediate implications for coastal planning, however few studies quantify stressor interactions. We examined past and potential future interactions between two leading stressors on New England salt marshes: sea-level rise and marsh crab (Sesarma reticulatum) grazing driven low marsh die-off. Geospatial analyses reveal that crab-driven die-off has led to an order of magnitude more marsh loss than sea-level rise between 2005 and 2013. However, field transplant experimental results suggest that sea-level rise will facilitate crab expansion into higher elevation marsh platforms by inundating and gradually softening now-tough high marsh peat, exposing large areas to crab-driven die-off. Taking interactive effects of marsh softening and concomitant overgrazing into account, we estimate that even modest levels of sea-level rise will lead to levels of salt marsh habitat loss that are 3x greater than the additive effects of sea-level rise and crab-driven die-off would predict. These findings highlight the importance of multiple stressor studies in enhancing mechanistic understanding of ecosystem vulnerabilities to future stress scenarios and encourage managers to focus on ameliorating local stressors to break detrimental synergisms, reduce future ecosystem loss, and enhance ecosystem resilience to global change.

Concepts: Marsh, Ecosystem, Coast, Swamp, Climate change, Salt marsh, Fen, Tidal marsh