Mechanisms of Storm-Related Loss and Resilience in a Large Submersed Plant Bed

Abstract

There is a growing emphasis on preserving ecological resilience, or a system’s capacity to absorb or recover quickly from perturbations, particularly in vulnerable coastal regions. However, the factors that affect resilience to a given disturbance are not always clear and may be system-specific. We analyzed and synthesized time series datasets to explore how extreme events impacted a large system of submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) in upper Chesapeake Bay and to identify and understand associated mechanisms of resilience. We found that physical removal of plants around the edge of the bed by high flows during a major flood event as well as subsequent wind-driven resuspension of newly deposited sediment and attendant light-limiting conditions were detrimental to the SAV bed. Conversely, it appears that the bed attenuated high flows sufficiently to prevent plant erosion at its inner core. The bed also attenuated wind-driven wave amplitude during seasonal peaks in plant biomass, thereby decreasing sediment resuspension and increasing water clarity. In addition, clear water appeared to “spill over” into adjacent regions during ebb tide, improving the bed’s capacity for renewal by creating more favorable growing conditions in areas where plant loss had occurred. These analyses demonstrate that positive feedback processes, whereby an SAV bed modifies its environment in ways that improve its own growth, likely serve as mechanisms of SAV resilience to flood events. Although this work focuses on a specific system, the synthetic approach used here can be applied to any system for which routine monitoring data are available.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Debbie Hinkle, Steve Suttles, Laura Murray, and Steven Di Falco for help collecting samples; Viacheslav Lyubchich for guidance on statistical methods; Keith Williams and staff from NorthBay Adventure for field support; and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. WML, LPS, and CG received support to carry out this research from Maryland Sea Grant under awards NA10OAR4170072 R/SV-1 and NA14OAR4170090 R/SD-1 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U. S. Department of Commerce. This paper is contribution no. 5167 of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory and 3518 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary.

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Correspondence to Cassie Gurbisz.

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Communicated by Kenneth Dunton

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Gurbisz, C., Kemp, W.M., Sanford, L.P. et al. Mechanisms of Storm-Related Loss and Resilience in a Large Submersed Plant Bed. Estuaries and Coasts 39, 951–966 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-016-0074-4

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Keywords

  • Submersed aquatic vegetation
  • Storm
  • Flood
  • Feedbacks
  • Resilience