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Salt Marsh Ecology. Salt Marshes: Where land and sea meet. A salt marsh is a unique environment where salt water meets the sea. What is a marsh?.

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salt marsh ecology
Salt Marsh Ecology

salt marshes where land and sea meet
Salt Marshes: Where land and sea meet
  • A salt marsh is a unique environment where salt water meets the sea
what is a marsh
What is a marsh?
  • Salt marshes are special because they connect the land to saltwater bays, oceans, and sounds
  • These two environments are very different from one another and create a very unique habitat when they come together
who lives in a salt marsh
Who lives in a salt marsh?
  • Salt marshes are important homes for many species of birds, fish, shellfish, reptiles and mammals
who lives in a salt marsh1
Who lives in a salt marsh?
  • Salt marshes are especially important for migrating birds, who find food and shelter in the marsh
who lives in a salt marsh2
Who lives in a salt marsh?
  • Salt marshes are also home to very special plants which can survive in salt water
how do plants survive in the marsh
How do plants survive in the marsh?
  • Land plants are not used to living in salt water and will dry out and wilt if you add salt water
  • Salt marsh plants have special adaptations for surviving in salty water

Exposure to salt water

Land plant in fresh water

Land plant in salt water

so how do plants survive in the marsh
So how do plants survive in the marsh?
  • Some salt marsh plants bleed out excess salt!
  • Other salt marsh plants live farther inland to limit the amount of salt water they are exposed to

got pickle
Got Pickle?
  • Salicornia, also known as pickleweed is edible and is named for its salty, pickle-like taste.
  • Where does this salt come from? Why the ocean, of course!
life in the marsh is harsh
Life in the marsh is harsh!
  • Since living in salt water is difficult for most plant species, only a few species of plants actually survive in the salt marsh

Smooth cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora

spartina alterniflora
Spartina alterniflora
  • Long Island salt marshes are dominated by smooth cord grass, Spartina alterniflora
  • Spartina alterniflora lives directly on the water, growing out of the muddy bottom
spartina alterniflora1
Spartina alterniflora
  • Spartina alterniflora sheds excess salt and has thick, web-like roots to help the plant dig-in and take in necessary oxygen and nutrients
why are marshes important
Why are marshes important?
  • The dense roots of Spartina trap sediments and other particles in the water, building more marsh!
    • Roots also filter out pollutants and excess nutrients which can otherwise cause harmful algal blooms
    • Spartina also protects the areas behind the marsh from erosion
spartina who
Spartina who?
  • Spartina alterniflora lives directly on the water, protecting the plants behind it from the harsh saltwater environment.
  • Behind Spartina alterniflora grows salt marsh hay or Spartina patens, which is less tolerant of the salt water environment than S. alterniflora

Spartina patens (salt marsh hay)

salt marsh zonation
Salt Marsh Zonation


Spartina alterniflora

Spartina patens

Spartina alterniflora (smooth cord grass) is always found closer to water than Spartina patens (salt marsh hay); this is known as zonation

salt marshes are tidal
Salt Marshes are tidal
  • Our oceans, bays and sounds are affected by the tides
  • High tides push water onto land
  • Low tides pull water away from land
  • Salt marshes are exposed during low tide, and submerged during high tide

As the earth spins, it moves into and out of the bulge created by the gravitation pull of the moon

salt marsh at low tide
Salt Marsh at LOW Tide

You can see the water line, where the water usually comes up to at high tide!

Exposed muddy bottom




Direction of water flow at low tide

Direction of water flow at high tide


At high tide, water fills the marsh and covers much of the S. alterniflora

  • At low tide, much of the S. alterniflora is exposed
life in a tidal marsh
Life in a tidal marsh

  • Submerged Spartina provides important habitat for fish and shellfish at high tide
life in a tidal marsh1
Life in a tidal marsh

Glass shrimp (top left); Sea horse (top right); Lacuna (bottom left); Pipefish (bottom right)

life in a tidal marsh2
Life in a tidal marsh
  • The submerged blades of grass provides protection
  • Protection is a good thing!

life in a tidal marsh3
Life in a tidal marsh

Resident and migratory species benefit from the protection of seagrass beds

Butterfly fish (left); Lizardfish (right)

life in a tidal marsh4
Life in a tidal marsh
  • Fiddler crabs hide in their burrows during high tide and emerge at low tide
why are marshes important1
Why are marshes important?
  • Because of the protection they provide, salt marshes are important nurseries for many finfish and shellfish species
    • Many of which migrate out of the area as adults, but return to mate and reproduce
why are marshes important2
Why are marshes important?
  • Salt marshes are recognized as important nursery grounds for many commercially and recreationally valuable fish and shellfish species

why are marshes important3
Why are marshes important?
  • In addition to the protection they provide, salt marsh plants produce incredible amounts of oxygen
  • Salt marshes are as productive as tropical rain forests!
why are marshes important4
Why are marshes important?
  • Salt marshes are home to the ribbed mussel, which filters out very fine particles, including harmful algae such as brown tide
why are marshes important5
Why are marshes important?
  • The loss of salt marshes is believed to be a contributing factor of the occurrence of brown tide in Long Island estuaries
threats to salt marshes
Threats to salt marshes
  • Global warming can melt glaciers raising local sea levels
    • Rising sea levels can inundate salt marshes
  • Many salt marshes are drained and altered
    • ~60% of all salt marshes in the U.S. are developed
threats to salt marshes1
Threats to salt marshes

Boats can cause extensive damage to submerged vegetation

threats to salt marshes2
Threats to salt marshes
  • Invasive species, such as the plant Phragmites, can displace native plant species, such as Spartina and change the type of animals that are normally found there
    • Phragmitescame over from Asia; an entire strand may be just one individual plant!
how you can help
How you can help
  • Learn how salt marshes are important, and tell others!
  • Participate in beach clean-ups