, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 141-149

Salt marsh vegetation change in response to tidal restriction

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Abstract

Vegetation change in response to restriction of the normal tidal prism of six Connecticut salt marshes is documented. Tidal flow at the study sites was restricted with tide gates and associated causeways and dikes for purposes of flood protection, mosquito control, and/or salt hay farming. One study site has been under a regime of reduced tidal flow since colonial times, while the duration of restriction at the other sites ranges from less than ten years to several decades. The data indicate that with tidal restriction there is a substantial reduction in soil water salinity, lowering of the water table level, as well as a relative drop in the marsh surface elevation. These factors are considered to favor the establishment and spread ofPhragmites australis (common reed grass) and other less salt-tolerant species, with an attendant loss ofSpartina-dominated marsh. Based on detailed vegetation mapping of the study sites, a generalized scheme is presented to describe the sequence of vegetation change from typicalSpartina- toPhragmites-dominated marshes. The restoration of thesePhragmites systems is feasible following the reintroduction of tidal flow. At several sites dominated byPhragmites, tidal flow was reintroduced after two decades of continuous restriction, resulting in a marked reduction inPhragmites height and the reestablishment of typical salt marsh vegetation along creekbanks. It is suggested that large-scale restoration efforts be initiated in order that these degraded systems once again assume their roles within the salt marsh-estuarine ecosystem.