MEPS 266:35-42 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps266035

Hydrologic aspects of marsh ponds during winter on the Gulf Coast Chenier Plain, USA: effects of structural marsh management

François Bolduc1,3,*, Alan D. Afton2

1School of Renewable Natural Resources, and
2USGS-Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803-6202, USA
3Present address: Tecsult, 4700 Wilfrid-Hamel, Quebec City, Quebec G1P 2J9, Canada

ABSTRACT: The hydrology of marsh ponds influences aquatic invertebrate and waterbird communities. Hydrologic variables in marsh ponds of the Gulf Coast Chenier Plain are potentially affected by structural marsh management (SMM: levees, water control structures and impoundments) that has been implemented since the 1950s. Assuming that SMM restricts tidal flows and drainage of rainwater, we predicted that SMM would increase water depth, and concomitantly decrease salinity and transparency in impounded marsh ponds. We also predicted that SMM would increase seasonal variability in water depth in impounded marsh ponds because of the potential incapacity of water control structures to cope with large flooding events. In addition, we predicted that SMM would decrease spatial variability in water depth. Finally, we predicted that ponds of impounded freshwater (IF), oligohaline (IO), and mesohaline (IM) marshes would be similar in water depth, temperature, dissolved oxygen (O2), and transparency. Using a priori multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) contrast, we tested these predictions by comparing hydrologic variables within ponds of impounded and unimpounded marshes during winters 1997-1998 to 1999-2000 on Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge, near Grand Chenier, Louisiana. Specifically, we compared hydrologic variables (1) between IM and unimpounded mesohaline marsh ponds (UM); and (2) among IF, IO, and IM marshes ponds. As predicted, water depth was higher and salinity and O2 were lower in IM than in UM marsh ponds. However, temperature and transparency did not differ between IM and UM marsh ponds. Water depth varied more among months in IM marsh ponds than within those of UM marshes, and variances among and within ponds were lower in IM than UM marshes. Finally, all hydrologic variables, except salinity, were similar among IF, IO, and IM marsh ponds. Hydrologic changes within marsh ponds due to SMM should (1) promote benthic invertebrate taxa that tolerate low levels of O2 and salinity; (2) deter waterbird species that cannot cope with increased water levels; and (3) reduce waterbird species diversity by decreasing spatial variability in water depth among and within marsh ponds.

KEY WORDS: Coastal wetlands · Gulf of Mexico · Wintering waterbirds · Ponds

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