MEPS 434:229-237 (2011)  -  doi:10.3354/meps09084

REVIEW
Uncertain future of New England salt marshes

Keryn B. Gedan1,2,*, Andrew H. Altieri1, Mark D. Bertness1

1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA
2Present address: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland 21037, USA
*Email:

ABSTRACT: Salt marsh plant communities have long been envisioned as dynamic, resilient systems that quickly recover from human impacts and natural disturbances. But are salt marshes sufficiently resilient to withstand the escalating intensity and scale of human impacts in coastal environments? In this study we examined the independent and interactive effects of emerging threats to New England salt marshes (temperature increase, accelerating eutrophication, consumer-driven salt marsh die-off, and sea level rise) to understand the future trajectory of these ecologically valuable ecosystems. While marsh plant communities remain resilient to many disturbances, loss of critical foundation species and changing tidal inundation regimes may short circuit marsh resilience in the future. Accelerating sea level rise and salt marsh die-off in particular may interact to overwhelm the compensatory mechanisms of marshes and increase their vulnerability to drowning. Management of marshes will require difficult decisions to balance ecosystem service tradeoffs and conservation goals, which, in light of the immediate threat of salt marsh loss, should focus on maintaining ecosystem resilience.


KEY WORDS: Climate change · Sea level rise · Salt marsh die-off · Eutrophication · Invasive species · Phragmites australis · Management


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Cite this article as: Gedan KB, Altieri AH, Bertness MD (2011) Uncertain future of New England salt marshes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 434:229-237

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