Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 1490–1505 | Cite as

Integrating Successional Ecology and the Delta Lobe Cycle in Wetland Research and Restoration

  • J. A. NymanEmail author


Inactive deltas are more extensive than active deltas in most deltaic landscapes; thus, the subsurface generally is dominated by mineral sediments that rapidly accreted at different times, whereas the landscape at any one time generally is dominated by ephemeral emergent wetlands that are slowly accreting via vegetative growth. Subsidence is slow enough in most deltas that emergent wetlands, although ephemeral, can persist for millennia but accelerating global sea level rise probably will slow wetland creation in active deltas and accelerate the loss of existing wetlands in inactive deltas this century worldwide. A recent publication created confusion regarding the effects of river management on coastal Louisiana, where spatially variable subsidence is great enough in some areas to mimic extremely rapid sea level rise. I show how integrating Successional Ecology with the Delta Lobe Cycle, and correcting some omissions and errors in recent publications, clarifies the effects of river management in coastal Louisiana and provides a framework for predicting deltaic landscape dynamics worldwide. Successional Ecology provides a framework for understanding changes in natural and managed environments worldwide, whereas the Delta Lobe Cycle provides a framework for understanding river-dominated deltas worldwide. Sediment diversions are a form of river management that removes artificial barriers to river flow and are designed to mimic hydrologic conditions during the active delta stage of the Delta Lobe Cycle by focusing rapid mineral sedimentation in open water and thus creating new emergent wetlands. Freshwater diversions are another form of river management that also removes artificial barriers to river flow but are designed to mimic hydrologic conditions during the inactive stages of the Delta Lobe Cycle by reducing salinity stress over large areas of emergent wetlands and thus promoting marsh vertical accretion via vegetative growth. The Delta Lobe Cycle and both types of river diversions also create salinity gradients that simultaneously increase the sensitivity of emergent wetlands to disturbance while increasing the ability of emergent wetlands to recover from disturbance. Freshwater diversions only slow the loss of existing wetlands because the natural Delta Lobe Cycle, artificial channels that increase salinity stress, artificial ridges that increase flooding stress, and repeated disturbances eventually will cause vertical accretion via vegetative growth to become inadequate. Formally integrating these concepts might advance research and restoration in deltaic landscapes worldwide especially in the majority of deltas where inactive deltas are more extensive than active deltas.


Wetland Delta Delta Lobe Cycle Disturbance Succession Restoration Diversion Louisiana 



R. Keim and anonymous reviewers provided constructive criticism to earlier drafts of this manuscript. This work was partially supported by McIntire-Stennis Project number LAB 94095 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


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© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Renewable Natural ResourcesLouisiana State University Agricultural CenterBaton RougeUSA

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