pp 1–14 | Cite as

The Twin Limit Marsh Model: A Non-equilibrium Approach to Predicting Marsh Vegetation on Shorelines and in Floodplains

  • Paul A. KeddyEmail author
  • Daniel Campbell
Applied Wetland Science


Vast areas of wetland occur on shorelines of ponds, lakes, and rivers. These wetlands are divided into vegetation zones, including aquatic vegetation, marsh, and swamp. Here, we provide a simple, mechanistic, and non-equilibrium model that explains the occurrence of marsh as a function of past flood pulses. Marshes are sandwiched between two limits, both of which fluctuate with time. The lower limit is set by the tolerance of marsh plants to continuous flooding. The upper limit is set by competion with woody plants, which are killed by extreme high water events. The twin limit marsh model (TLMM) requires long-term water-level records and two biological inputs: duration of flooding required to drown marsh plants (f) and the duration of dewatering required for woody plants to reinvade once water levels drop (s). In the temperate zone, we suggest that f is ~4 yr and s is ~30 yr. We illustrate the model for the marshes of Lakes Erie and Ontario. High water years that kill woody plants, followed by low water years, produce large expanses of marsh. The regulation of lakes and rivers generally has negative effects on marsh area and diversity. The TLMM can be calibrated for other climates or ecoregions.


Marsh Shoreline Floodplain Flood pulse Drowning Succession Wet meadow Water-level fluctuations 



We thank Scott Painter for first translating the ideas of Keddy and Reznicek (1986) into simple rules that could be used for ecological prediction. We also appreciate early work by Paul Catling and Tony Reznicek that document the extremely high plant diversity of Great Lakes shorelines, as illustrated by work such as The Flora of Long Point. We appreciate Ron Huffman’s detailed letter on woody plants in the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Erie. This project was completed without grant support, and without salary, for either of the authors.

Supplementary material

13157_2019_1229_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (203 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 202 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent ScholarCarleton PlaceCanada
  2. 2.Birchbark Environmental ResearchSudburyCanada

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