, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 346-355

Freshwater impacts in normally hypersaline marshes

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Heavy rainfall in 1978 and 1980 caused flooding of southern California salt marshes. Examination of three marshes demonstrated a broad range of freshwater effects which correlated with the degree of change in soil salinity. At Tijuana Estuary (1980), a short-term reduction in the salinity of normally hypersaline soils was followed by a 40% increase in the August biomass of Spartina foliosa. At Los Penasquitos Lagoon (1978), a longer period of brackish water influence was followed by a 160% increase in August biomass of Salicornia virginica. At the San Diego River (1980), flood flows were augmented by major reservoir discharge. Continuous freshwater flow leached most of the marsh soil salts and caused replacement of halophytes by freshwater marsh species. The first two cases probably fell within the normal range of flooding events, even though the hydrology of both watersheds has been modified. The vegetation response was functional; productivity increased but there was no major change in species composition. As expected, vegetation rapidly returned to preflood conditions. However, the long-term freshwater flow in the Dan Diego River was unnatural. Floral composition changed as soils were leached of salts. Recovery following the return of saline soils has been slow because many native halophytes are not good colonizers. The system's resilience is limited, and modification of natural stream discharge can cause permanent changes in coastal wetlands.