Development of a reference coastal wetland set in Southern New England (USA)
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Various measures of plants, soils, and invertebrates were described for a reference set of tidal coastal wetlands in Southern New England in order to provide a framework for assessing the condition of other similar wetlands in the region. The condition of the ten coastal wetlands with similar hydrology and geomorphology were ranked from least altered to highly altered using a combination of statistical methods and best professional judgment. Variables of plants, soils, and invertebrates were examined separately using principal component analysis to reduce the multidimensional variables to principal component scores. The first principal component scores of each set of variables (i.e., plants, soil, invertebrates) significantly (p < 0.05) correlated with both residential land use and watershed nitrogen (N) loads. Using cumulative frequency diagrams, the first principal component scores of each plant, soil, and invertebrate data set were plotted, and natural breaks and best professional judgment were used to rank the first principal component scores among the sites. We weighted all three ranked components equally and calculated an overall salt marsh condition index by summing the three ranks and then transforming the index to a 0–1 scale. The overall salt marsh condition index for the reference coastal wetland set significantly correlated with the residential land use (R = − 0.87, p = 0.001) and watershed N loads (R = − 0.86, p = 0.001). Overall, condition deteriorated in salt marshes and their associated discharge streams when subjected to increasing watershed residential land use and N loads.
KeywordsCondition index Ecosystem service Erosion control Eutrophication Habitat value Reference set Salt marsh Tipping point Urbanization Water quality maintenance
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