Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 623–632 | Cite as

The impact of the change in vegetation structure on the ecological functions of salt marshes: the example of the Yangtze estuary

  • Xiuzhen Li
  • Linjing Ren
  • Yu Liu
  • Christopher Craft
  • Ülo Mander
  • Shilun Yang
Original Article


Salt marshes worldwide are faced with threats from rising sea levels and coastal development. We measured changes in salt marsh vegetation structure using remote sensing and its consequences for carbon sequestration, wave attenuation, and sediment trapping ability using remotely sensed imaging, field measurement data, and the published literature data pertaining to the Yangtze Estuary, a rapidly urbanizing area in Eastern China. From 1980 to 2010, the total area of vegetated salt marsh decreased by 17 %, but the vegetation structure changed more dramatically, with the ratio of Phragmites/Spartina/Scirpus changing from 24:0:76, to 77:0:23, 44:13:43, and 33:39:28 in 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010, respectively. Carbon sequestration increased slightly from 1980 to 2010, with the dramatic shifts in plant species composition. The total length of seawall inadequately protected by salt marsh vegetation increased from 44 km in 1980 to 300 km in 2010. Sediment accretion increased (from 8 to 14 million m3/year) due to the spread of Spartina, which to some extent compensated the loss of total vegetated area in the salt marsh. Changes in the delivery of functions were not linearly related to the change in the area of vegetated salt marsh, but more from the combined effect of changing vegetation structure, sediment input, and land reclamation. Under threat of sea-level rise, protection and maintenance of vegetation structure outside the seawall are of great importance for the safe economic development inside the seawall.


Salt marsh vegetation Carbon storage Sediment accumulation Wave attenuation 



This paper was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (2010CB951203), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (40671065, 41021064), the Ministry of Education (111 Project: B08022), the Programme Strategic Scientific Alliances between China and the Netherlands (2008DFB90240), the Ministry of Education and Science of Estonia (Grant IUT2-16), and the EU through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence ENVIRON).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiuzhen Li
    • 1
  • Linjing Ren
    • 1
  • Yu Liu
    • 1
  • Christopher Craft
    • 2
  • Ülo Mander
    • 3
    • 4
  • Shilun Yang
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal ResearchEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.School of Public and Environmental AffairsIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geography, Institute of Ecology and Earth SciencesUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  4. 4.Hydrosystems and Bioprocesses Research UnitNational Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture (Irstea)Antony CedexFrance

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