Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Coastal wetlands: A synthesis

December 7, 2018

This book and this synthesis address the pressing need for better management of coastal wetlands worldwide because these wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate; in some countries the loss is 70%–80% in the last 50 years. Managing requires understanding. Although our understanding of the functioning of coastal wetland ecosystems has grown rapidly over the past decade, still much remains to be learned and understood. We have gained insight into the roles of geomorphic processes, hydrologic dynamics, biotic feedback, and disturbance agents in creating and molding a variety of coastal wetland ecosystems across climatic gradients. The variety is expressed not so much in the more obvious differences in vegetation cover, but rather how physical processes both facilitate and constrain a diversity of plant and animal communities. At one level, coastal wetlands are the product of tidal forces and freshwater inputs at the margin of continents. At another level, the plants control the water currents in the tidal creeks draining the wetlands by generating a tidal current asymmetry that controls sediment transport and results in a deep tidal creek surrounded by shallow vegetated wetlands. The vegetation also influences the physics of water and sediment through several other processes including biofilms, bioturbation of sediments, the buffeting of currents and waves, organic enrichment of sediments, and the closing of nutrient cycles. Few ecosystems provide us with so many clear examples of such feedback controls. What we do understand about the structure and functioning of coastal wetlands should provide the theoretical underpinnings for effective management in protecting them for their many contributions to ecosystem goods and services. What we do not understand should compel us to focus our attention and energies toward seeking optimal solutions to some of the most perplexing and urgent problems facing natural resource management.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Coastal wetlands: A synthesis
DOI 10.1016/B978-0-444-63893-9.00001-0
Authors Charles S. Hopkinson, Eric Wolanski, Donald R. Cahoon, Gerardo M. E. Perillo, Mark M. Brinson
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70201225
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center