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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 644:33-45 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13342

Submergence, nutrient enrichment, and tropical storm impacts on Spartina alterniflora in the microtidal northern Gulf of Mexico

Jennifer M. Hill1,*, Peter S. Petraitis2, Kenneth L. Heck Jr.3

1Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA 71270, USA
2University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
3Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Salt marshes face chronic anthropogenic impacts such as relative sea level rise and eutrophication, as well as acute disturbances from tropical storms that can affect the productivity of these important communities. However, it is not well understood how marshes already subjected to eutrophication and sea level rise will respond to added effects of episodic storms such as hurricanes. We examined the interactive effects of nutrient addition, sea level rise, and a hurricane on the growth, biomass accumulation, and resilience of the saltmarsh cordgrass Spartina alterniflora in the Gulf of Mexico. In a microtidal marsh, we manipulated nutrient levels and submergence using marsh organs in which cordgrasses were planted at differing intertidal elevations and measured the impacts of Hurricane Isaac, which occurred during the experiment. Prior to the hurricane, grasses at intermediate and high elevations increased in abundance. After the hurricane, all treatments lost approximately 50% of their shoots, demonstrating that added nutrients and elevation did not provide resistance to hurricane disturbance. At the end of the experiment, only the highest elevations had been resilient to the hurricane, with increased above- and belowground growth. Added nutrients provided a modest increase in above- and belowground growth, but only at the highest elevations, suggesting that only elevation will enhance resilience to hurricane disturbance. These results empirically demonstrate that S. alterniflora in microtidal locations already subjected to submergence stress is less able to recover from storm disturbance and suggests we may be underestimating the loss of northern Gulf Coast marshes due to relative sea level rise.


KEY WORDS: Wetland · Salt marsh · Sea level rise · Hurricanes · Multi-stressor impacts · Coastal restoration · Cordgrass


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Cite this article as: Hill JM, Petraitis PS, Heck KL Jr (2020) Submergence, nutrient enrichment, and tropical storm impacts on Spartina alterniflora in the microtidal northern Gulf of Mexico. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 644:33-45. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13342

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