Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 884–895 | Cite as

Living on the Edge: Increasing Patch Size Enhances the Resilience and Community Development of a Restored Salt Marsh

  • Rachel K. GittmanEmail author
  • F. Joel Fodrie
  • Christopher J. Baillie
  • Michelle C. Brodeur
  • Carolyn A. Currin
  • Danielle A. Keller
  • Matthew D. Kenworthy
  • Joseph P. Morton
  • Justin T. Ridge
  • Y. Stacy Zhang


Foundation species regulate communities by reducing environmental stress and providing habitat for other species. Successful restoration of biogenic habitats often depends on restoring foundation species at appropriate spatial scales within a suitable range of environmental conditions. An improved understanding of the relationship between restoration scale and environmental conditions has the potential to improve restoration outcomes for many biogenic habitats. Here, we identified and tested whether inundation/exposure stress and spatial scale (patch size) can interactively determine (1) survival and growth of a foundation species, Spartina alterniflora and (2) recruitment of supported fauna. We planted S. alterniflora and artificial mimics in large and small patches at elevations above and below local mean sea level (LMSL) and monitored plant survivorship and production, as well as faunal recruitment. In the first growing season, S. alterniflora plant survivorship and stem densities were greater above LMSL than below LMSL regardless of patch size, while stem height was greatest in small patches below LMSL. By the third growing season, S. alterniflora patch expansion was greater above LMSL than below LMSL, while stem densities were higher in large patches than small patches, regardless of location relative to LMSL. Unlike S. alterniflora, which was more productive above LMSL, sessile marine biota recruitment to mimic plants was higher in patches below LMSL than above LMSL. Our results highlight an ecological tradeoff at ~LMSL between foundation species restoration and faunal recruitment. Increasing patch size as inundation increases may offset this tradeoff and enhance resilience of restored marshes to sea-level rise.


Biogenic habitat Exposure Foundation species Recruitment Spartina alterniflora 



We thank A. Popowich, G. Redding, A. Rodriguez, and E. Theuerkauf for assistance in the field, M. Greene for RTK elevation data collection and DEM construction, and B. Puckett for providing wave height data. We also thank J. Fear, C. Peterson, and M. Piehler for their advice, as well as C. Marti and four anonymous reviewers for provided comments that greatly improved the manuscript. This research was funded by a NOAA NERRS graduate fellowship (NOAA Grant No: NA11NOS4200086) to R. Gittman, a grant from the NOAA/UNH Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (NOAA Grant No: NA06NOS4190167), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The scientific results and conclusions, as well as any views or opinions expressed herein, are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or the Department of Commerce.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 113 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel K. Gittman
    • 1
    Email author
  • F. Joel Fodrie
    • 2
  • Christopher J. Baillie
    • 1
  • Michelle C. Brodeur
    • 2
  • Carolyn A. Currin
    • 3
  • Danielle A. Keller
    • 2
  • Matthew D. Kenworthy
    • 2
  • Joseph P. Morton
    • 4
  • Justin T. Ridge
    • 4
  • Y. Stacy Zhang
    • 4
  1. 1.Marine Science CenterNortheastern UniversityNahantUSA
  2. 2.University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute of Marine SciencesMorehead CityUSA
  3. 3.Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric AdministrationBeaufortUSA
  4. 4.Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityBeaufortUSA

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