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Response of tidal marsh vegetation to pulsed increases in flooding and nitrogen

December 13, 2019

Worldwide, human activities have modified hydrology and nutrient loading regimes in coastal wetlands. Understanding the interplay between these drivers and subsequent response of wetland plant communities is essential to informing wetland management and restoration efforts. Recent restoration strategies in Louisiana proposes to use sediment diversions from the Mississippi River to build land in adjacent wetlands and reduce the rate of land to open water conversion. In conjunction with sediment delivery, diversions can increase nutrient loads and water levels in the receiving basins. We conducted a greenhouse mesocosm experiment in which we exposed three common tidal freshwater and brackish marsh plants (Panicum hemitomon, Sagittaria lancifolia, and Spartina patens) to two nitrate loading rates [high (35 g N m2 year−1) and low (0.25 g N m2 year−1)], and two flooding treatments (with and without diversion pulsing). Experimental units were set at two different elevations within the treatment tanks to simulate both a healthy and degraded marsh. Plant growth metrics and soil physicochemical properties were measured monthly. Final total biomass was determined at the study’s conclusion. Growth responses differed between species but were not significantly influenced by the treatments. Soil redox potential decreased significantly following the increase in flooding associated with the diversion pulse, but recovered to pre-diversion levels after a 3-month recovery period. Our study suggests short flooding pulses with a recovery period may be key for maintaining healthy marshes, however there remains a need for longer-term empirical studies to understand marsh response to pressures associated with river sediment diversions over time.

Publication Year 2019
Title Response of tidal marsh vegetation to pulsed increases in flooding and nitrogen
DOI 10.1007/s11273-019-09699-8
Authors Meagan M McCoy, Taylor M Sloey, Rebecca J. Howard, Mark W. Hester
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wetlands Ecology and Management
Index ID 70207291
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center