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Use of GIS and high resolution LiDAR in salt marsh restoration site suitability assessments in the upper Bay of Fundy, Canada

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Salt marshes exhibit striking vegetation zonation corresponding to spatially variable elevation gradients which dictate their frequency of inundation by the tides. The salt marshes in the upper Bay of Fundy, a dynamic hypertidal system, are of considerable interest due to increasing recognition of salt marsh ecosystem values and the extent of prior conversion of salt marshes to agricultural lands, much of which are no longer in use. To determine the suitability of two potential restoration sites at Beausejour Marsh in New Brunswick, Canada, geomatics technologies and techniques were used to assess vegetation and elevation patterns in an adjacent reference salt marsh and the proposed restoration sites. Light detection and ranging digital elevation models (DEMs) were created for the reference marsh and the restoration sites in both the spring (leaf-off) and late summer (leaf-on, maximum biomass) periods. Aerial photographs and Quickbird multispectral imagery were used to visually interpret vegetation zones on the reference marsh and were field validated using vegetation characteristics from quadrats referenced with differential GPS. Elevation limits of the salt marsh vegetation zones were extracted from the DEM of the reference marsh and applied to the DEM of the restoration sites to determine the percentage area of each site that would be immediately suitable for new salt marsh growth. Of the two restoration sites assessed, one had experienced significant subsidence since dyking; only about 40 % of the site area was determined to be of sufficient elevation for immediate vegetation colonization. The second site, while more than 88 % suitable, would require the installation of a large dyke on the landward side of the restoration site to prevent flooding of adjacent lands. This study provides essential high resolution elevation and vegetation zonation data for use in restoration site assessments, and highlights the usefulness of applied geomatics in the salt marsh restoration planning process.

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Comments and advice were gratefully received from Bob Maher, Al Hansen (Environment Canada), Jeff Ollerhead (Mount Allison University), Danika van Proosdij (Saint Mary’s University), and Bill Tedford (Ducks Unlimited Canada). Chris Hopkinson and Laura Chasmer collected and preprocessed for insightful comments and suggestions which have helped to highlight the research results and greatly improve the manuscript. This study was supported by Ducks Unlimited Systems, Acadia Office of Research and Graduate Studies, Acadia Center for Estuarine Research, Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) and the NSCC Applied Geomatics Research Conservation.

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Correspondence to K. Millard.

Appendix: USDA species codes

Appendix: USDA species codes


Achillea millefolium


Atriplex prostrata


Distichlis spicata


Glaux maritima


Elymus trachycaulus


Hodeum jubatum


Juncus gerardii


Limonium carolinium


Plantago maritima


Puccinellia maritima


Solidago sempervirens


Spartina alterniflora


Spartina patens


Spartina pectinata


Suaeda maritima


Triglochin maritima

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Millard, K., Redden, A.M., Webster, T. et al. Use of GIS and high resolution LiDAR in salt marsh restoration site suitability assessments in the upper Bay of Fundy, Canada. Wetlands Ecol Manage 21, 243–262 (2013).

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