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Ecological resilience indicators for salt marsh ecosystems

June 1, 2018

Salt marshes are coastal ecosystems within the intertidal zone, characterized by hypoxic, saline, soil conditions and low biodiversity. Low diversity arises from frequent disturbance and stressful conditions (i.e., high salinity and hypoxia), where vegetative reproduction and low competition result in mostly monotypic stands, with some differences in plant community influenced by flooding regime (described below). While there are several types of salt marshes in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (NGoM), ranging from low to high salt marshes and salt flats (Tiner, 2013), Spartina alterniflora–dominated salt marshes in the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) Low and Intermediate Salt Marsh Biotic Group (FGDC, 2012) are the most extensive and are the focus of this project. These salt marshes are classified as “Gulf Coast Cordgrass Salt Marsh” (CEGL004190; USNVC, 2016). Within the NGoM region, some salt marsh areas are dominated by other species such as Spartina patens and Juncus roemerianus, which both occupy higher elevations in high-precipitation zones (e.g., Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida). In lower precipitation regions (southern Texas), hypersaline conditions often develop yielding communities of succulent salt marsh plants (Batis and Salicornia spp.). In climatic zones with warmer winter temperatures, temperate salt marshes naturally transition to mangrove (generally in the southern Gulf of Mexico range) or, in areas with lower precipitation, to salt flats (generally in western part of the study area).