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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 488:145-155 (2013)  -  DOI:

Effects of shoreline erosion on salt-marsh floral zonation

Ryan M. Moody1,*, Just Cebrian1,3, Sara M. Kerner2, Kenneth L. Heck, Jr.1,3, Sean P. Powers1,3, Carl Ferraro4

1Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA
2Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology, 150 West University Blvd., Melbourne, Florida 32901, USA
3Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, LSCB 25, Mobile, Alabama 36688, USA
4State Lands Division Coastal Section, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,
3111 5 Rivers Blvd, Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527, USA

ABSTRACT: The loss of salt-marsh habitat is proceeding at an alarming rate worldwide, resulting in the loss of ecosystem function and reduced exchange with adjacent habitats. The immediate result of shoreline erosion is the loss of fringing vegetation, but it is unclear how, and at what temporal scale, intertidal floral zones respond to shoreline loss. Using a transect-based approach over a 3 yr period, we compared community composition among 3 intertidal salt marshes in coastal Alabama that differ in the intensity of wave-generated disturbance. Each study marsh exhibited net annual rates of shoreline retreat, but differed in its exposure to wave-induced disturbance and erosional state. We also examined whether wave attenuation by oyster breakwaters reduced annual rates of shoreline erosion, providing a means to test whether the intensity of shoreline erosion affects inter-annual patterns of marsh zonation. Community composition differed across sites, but not between breakwater treatments and site-specific rates of shoreline loss, suggesting that differences in community composition are not due to differences in erosion intensity, but to other contrasts across sites. The cohesive nature of the floral communities at each site suggests that marshes maintain their zonation structure by migrating inland as the shoreline recedes. The inland migration of marsh zones will, however, ultimately be limited by the lack of area available for marsh colonization. The preservation of coastal salt marshes is, therefore, vitally contingent on effective shoreline management strategies.

KEY WORDS: Community · Erosion · Flora · Gulf of Mexico · Living shorelines · Salt marsh

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Cite this article as: Moody RM, Cebrian J, Kerner SM, Heck KL JR , Powers SP, Ferraro C (2013) Effects of shoreline erosion on salt-marsh floral zonation. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 488:145-155.

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