, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 975–988 | Cite as

Brinson Review: Perspectives on the Influence of Nutrients on the Sustainability of Coastal Wetlands

  • J. T. MorrisEmail author
  • G. P. Shaffer
  • J. A. Nyman
Mark Brinson Review


Among the solutions being proposed for reversing wetland loss in the Mississippi River Delta are the creation of diversions to reintroduce suspended sediment carried in the river. In areas of rapid relative sea-level rise, as in the Mississippi Delta, it is generally accepted that a supply of sediment in flood water and mineral sedimentation are critical to sustaining wetlands. But plans to create diversions have raised questions about the collateral effects of nutrients carried in the Mississippi River, effects that may contravene the benefits of sediment. This review finds the balance of empirical and theoretical evidence supports that nutrients benefit above- and belowground plant production and that fresh water and sediment diversions can be effective and beneficial for restoring wetlands in the Delta, especially if designed to maximize sediment inputs. The input of sediment, nutrients, and fresh water will change the community composition of some wetlands and their biogeochemical processes. Most of the nitrogen input should be assimilated or denitrified. Labile organic matter is likely to degrade more quickly, but labile organic matter does not add ‘new’ soil volume and its speed of decay is of little consequence. Additional research is needed before we fully understand the consequences of nutrients on the preservation of organic matter in sediment, but building on what is known of the activities of lignin-degrading fungi and their enzymes, it is likely that refractory organic matter should increase and contribute positively to sediment accretion. This is supported by long-term studies of sediment accretion in a New England salt marsh with peat sediment, and in a mineral-dominated southeastern salt marsh, that show elevations in fertilized plots gained as much or more than in reference plots.


Nitrogen Nutrient Plant development Mississippi River Delta Sediment organic matter Decomposition Diversion Sedimentation Marsh restoration Primary production Model 



We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers who provided very helpful suggestions for improving the manuscript. This review was supported by the Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Wildlife Fund through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. NSF grant DEB 1052636 supported field work in North Inlet and OCE 1238212 supported field work in Plum Island and modeling. The conclusions in this report are our own and not necessarily those of these funding agencies. This is contribution number 1681 of the Belle W Baruch Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences. We apologize in advance to the authors of literature not cited; oversights were unintentional.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Belle Baruch Institute for Marine & Coastal SciencesUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesSoutheastern Louisiana UniversityHammondUSA
  3. 3.School of Renewable Natural ResourcesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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