Science Inventory

Wetland Loss Patterns and Inundation-Productivity Relationships Prognosticate Widespread Salt Marsh Loss for Southern New England

Citation:

Watson, E., C. Wigand, Earl W. Davey, H. Andrews, J. Bishop, AND K. Raposa. Wetland Loss Patterns and Inundation-Productivity Relationships Prognosticate Widespread Salt Marsh Loss for Southern New England. Estuaries and Coasts. Estuarine Research Federation, Port Republic, MD, 40(3):662-681, (2017).

Impact/Purpose:

Communities in southern New England are faced with accelerated sea level rise causing marsh areal and ecosystem service losses. To determine whether salt marshes in southern New England will be stable given increasing inundation over the coming decades, we examined current loss patterns, inundation-productivity feedbacks, and sustaining processes. A multi-decadal analysis of salt marsh aerial extent using historic imagery and maps revealed that salt marsh vegetation loss is both widespread, and accelerating, with vegetation loss rates over the past four decades summing to 17.3%.

Description:

Tidal salt marsh is a key defense against, yet is especially vulnerable to, the effects of accelerated sea level rise. To determine whether salt marshes in southern New England will be stable given increasing inundation over the coming decades, we examined current loss patterns, inundation-productivity feedbacks, and sustaining processes. A multi-decadal analysis of salt marsh aerial extent using historic imagery and maps revealed that salt marsh vegetation loss is both widespread and accelerating, with vegetation loss rates over the past four decades summing to 17.3 %. Landward retreat of the marsh edge, widening and headward expansion of tidal channel networks, loss of marsh islands, and the development and enlargement of interior depressions found on the marsh platform contributed to vegetation loss. Inundation due to sea level rise is strongly suggested as a primary driver: vegetation loss rates were significantly negatively correlated with marsh elevation (r2 = 0.96; p = 0.0038), with marshes situated below mean high water (MHW) experiencing greater declines than marshes sitting well above MHW. Growth experiments with Spartina alterniflora, the Atlantic salt marsh ecosystem dominant, across a range of elevations and inundation regimes further established that greater inundation decreases belowground biomass production of S. alterniflora and, thus, negatively impacts organic matter accumulation. These results suggest that southern New England salt marshes are already experiencing deterioration and fragmentation in response to sea level rise and may not be stable as tidal flooding increases in the future.

URLs/Downloads:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12237-016-0069-1   Exit

Record Details:

Record Type: DOCUMENT (JOURNAL/PEER REVIEWED JOURNAL)
Product Published Date: 05/01/2017
Record Last Revised: 05/23/2017
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 336382

Organization:

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LABORATORY

ATLANTIC ECOLOGY DIVISION

HABITATS EFFECT BRANCH