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How plants influence resilience of salt marsh and mangrove wetlands to sea-level rise

September 15, 2020

This review evaluates the importance of plants and associated biological processes in determining the vulnerability of coastal wetlands to sea-level rise. Coastal wetlands occur across a broad sedimentary continuum from minerogenic to biogenic, providing an opportunity to examine the relative importance of biological processes in wetland resilience to sea-level rise. We explore how plants influence sediment accretion, elevation capital (vertical position in the tidal frame), and compaction or erosion of deposited material. We focus on salt marsh and mangrove wetlands, which occupy a similar physiographic niche and display similar physical and biological controls on resilience to sea-level rise. In both habitats, plants stabilize emergent mudflats and help sustain the wetland position in the tidal frame relative to ocean height through both surface and subsurface process controls on soil elevation. Plants influence soil elevations by modifying (1) mineral sediment deposition and retention, (2) organic matter contributions to soil volume, and (3) resistance to compaction and erosion. Recognition of the importance of plants in coastal wetland resilience to sea-level rise is key to accurate predictions about the future fate of salt marshes and mangrove forests and for development of effective management and restoration plans.