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Biotic Communities of Marsh Systems. Fresh/Saltwater Systems. Freshwater marsh 0.5-5.0 ppt (between oligohaline zone and non-tidal freshwater) Saltwater marsh5.0-35.0 ppt or greater depending upon conditions. Saltwater -lg. Tidal influence -sandy, lower OM

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fresh saltwater systems
Fresh/Saltwater Systems
  • Freshwater marsh0.5-5.0 ppt (between oligohaline zone and non-tidal freshwater)
  • Saltwater marsh5.0-35.0 ppt or greater depending upon conditions

-lg. Tidal influence

-sandy, lower OM

-marine and estuarine macrophytes

-low species diversity

-moderate to high algal production


-riverine influence

-silt and clay, high OM

-freshwater macrophytes

-high species diversity

-very low algal production (<1%pp)

salt marsh ecology
Salt Marsh Ecology
  • Complex systems
  • Shaped by water,sediments, and vegetation
  • Found on low energy coastlines and protected back barriers
basic characteristics
Basic Characteristics
  • Found in inter-tidal zones
  • Fewer species present, occupying broader niches (recent geologic origin)
  • Stressful environment
  • Large gradients present for temperature, salinity, and pH
  • Tidal sequence provides major source of sediment load
  • Terrestrial runoff provides secondary source
  • Salt tolerant plant species invade and thrive following deposition of sediments
atchafalaya delta region
Atchafalaya Delta Region
  • Recent studies prove importance of riverine input
  • Delta receives 1/3 of Miss. River flow
  • Wetland area actually increasing
  • Surrounding areas are in rapid decline due to subsidence and sea level rise
global variations
North America

Gulf Coast

West Coast

East Coast


Arctic (North and South)

Global Variations
european salt marshes
European Salt Marshes
  • Found above low neap tide line
  • Periodic inundation
  • Different physiology due to tidal influence
  • Salicornia, Suaeda maritima, Juncus maritimus
primary production classical view
Primary Production -Classical View
  • Spartina alterniflora responsible for majority of production
  • 3300 g/m/yr production
  • Production influenced by tides
primary production modern approach
Primary Production-Modern Approach
  • Isotopic analysis
  • C13/c12 ratio point towards other sources
  • Algae, diatoms
  • Ominvores complicate data
primary consumers
Primary Consumers
  • Trophic relationships begin with algae or Spartina detritus
  • Rich benthic communities develop
  • Bacteria rich detritus more valuable when compared to plant tissue
  • Species of Uca, Callinectes, and Penaeus common in systems
primary consumers cont
Deposit Feeders

-take in bottom sediments

-filter organic particles


Suspension Feeders

-filter organic material and other nutrients out of water column

-use siphons, internal filters

-American oysters, mussels

Primary Consumers cont.
value to marsh system
Value to Marsh System
  • Macro-consumers provide an essential link in salt marsh energetics
  • Take potentially harmful nutrients out of water column (phosphorus, etc.)
  • Bioturbation aerates the soil, increasing algal productivity
  • Feces provide new food source for microbial communities
secondary consumers
Secondary Consumers
  • Birds, fish, and crabs compose a majority of the species for this trophic level
  • Primary consumers provide valuable food source for juvenile populations
  • May feed on organisms in sediments and water column
aerobic zones
Aerobic Zones
  • Occur in top 2-3mm of soil
  • High content of oxidized ions (Fe+++,Mn+4,NO3-, SO4--)
  • Vital source of energy for system
  • Metals later reduced in anaerobic environment
anaerobic zone
Anaerobic Zone
  • Nitrate 2 pathways
  • Assimilatory nitrate reduction (plant uptake)
  • Dissimilatory nitrate reduction (denitrification)
  • Significant loss of N in salt marsh
nitrogen cycling
Nitrogen Cycling
  • Complex interactions in both aerobic and anaerobic zones
  • Mineralization production of ammonium ion from organic N
  • Pulled upward (gradient change)oxidized by chemoautotrophs
  • Nitrification (nitrosomonas, nitrobacter)
mg and fe reduction
Mg and Fe reduction
  • Follows dentrification
  • Cause of grey/green coloration in soil
  • Forms ferrous oxides which can inhibit nutrient uptake around plant roots
sulfur reduction
Sulfur reduction
  • Assimilatory S reduction Desulfovibrio
  • OM produced
  • Combines with Fe to reduce H2S concentrations in sediments (limits toxicity)
  • PS bacteria (purple sulfur)create OM on surface of the salt marsh
  • Occurs in extremely reduced conditions
  • After oxygen, nitrate, sulfate are used up
  • Can be recycled by bacteria during droughts
  • Complex interactions regarding salt marsh energetics
  • Algal growth and diatom formation provide basic primary production
  • Nutrient cycling in anaerobic zones, rich bacterial communities
  • Low species richness due to emphimeral nature and harsh environment
  • Tidal freshwater wetlands are a distinctive type of ecosystem located upstream from tidal saline wetlands (salt marshes) and downstream from non-tidal freshwater wetlands
  • Near freshwater conditions 0.5 ppt average annual salinity (more concen. during periods of drought )
  • Plant and animal communities dominated by freshwater species
  • A daily lunar tidal fluctuation
tidal freshwater wetlands
Tidal Freshwater Wetlands
  • lies between the oliogohaline zone and non-tidal freshwater
tidal freshwater marshes1
Tidal Freshwater Marshes
  • Are characterized by a large diverse group of broad-leafed plants, grasses, rushes, shrubs and herbacious plants.
simplifying terminology
Simplifying terminology
  • Odum, et al (1984) identifies similar terminology in literature such as palustrine emergent wetland, freshwater tidal, transition marsh combined with arrow-arum and pickerelweed marsh…simplified to tidalfreshwater marsh for convenience and term is more widely used.
tidal freshwater marshes classified as either
Tidal Freshwater Marshes classified as either:
  • System: palustrine

Class: emergent wetland

Subclass: persistent and non-persistent

  • System : riverine

Class: emergent wetland

Subclass: non-persistent

water regimes for either classification
Water regimes for either classification:

Permanently flooded – tidal

Regularly flooded

Seasonally flooded – tidal

the system selected depends on the position of the marsh with respect to the river channel
The system selected depends on the position of the marsh with respect to the river channel
  • High back marshes with persistent vegetation classified as palustrine
  • Fringing low marshes along river edges classified as riverine
along united states east coast
Along United States East Coast
  • Most extensive development of freshwater tidal marshes between Southern New England and Georgia
best developed in locations
Best developed in locations…
  • Major influx of freshwater
  • Daily tidal amplitude of at least 0.5m (1.6ft.)
  • A geomorphological structure which constricts & magnifies the tidal wave in the upstream portion of the estuary
in north carolina estuaries lie behind outer banks
In North Carolina estuaries lie behind Outer Banks
  • reduced tidal amplitude
  • Almost all coastal river systems have tidal and freshwater systems
  • Slight tidal change
  • Irregular tides and greatly affected by the wind
north carolina is unique
North Carolina is unique…
  • Tidal plant communities present typically restricted in size
  • Tidal swamps present
  • Cape Fear River system, one exception
    • One meter tide
    • Extensive areas of typical tidal freshwater marshes
characteristics of freshwater wetlands by region
Characteristics of freshwater wetlands by region
  • Florida, tidal freshwater marshes are very restricted in size or very seasonal
  • Gulf, Louisiana – extensive tidal freshwater marshes
      • Irregular
      • Low amplitude
      • Wind driven
  • Pacific Coast - relatively rare
  • Alaska – extensive
  • California – associated with large river systems, ex. Sacramento
  • Washington and Oregon – associated with Columbia River
geological history relatively recent
Geological History – relativelyrecent
  • Freshwater coastal marshes expanded rapidly as drowned river systems were inundated and filled with sediment
  • Northern Gulf of Mexico coast, marshes are probably still expanding due to increased runoff associated with land clearing and human activities
soil and water chemistry
Soil and Water Chemistry
  • Coastal Marsh sediments generally organic
  • Sediments are anaerobic except for a thin surface layer
  • Ammonium is present in the winter but reduced to lower levels in the summer due to plant uptake
  • Nitrogen present in organic form
  • Phosphorus levels vary
  • High cation exchange capacity (CEC)
  • Soil pH generally close to neutral (6.3 to 7.0)
decomposition 3 factors
Decomposition – 3 Factors
  • Temperature, major factor in decay
    • As temperatures increase, decay increases
  • Oxygen and water availability
    • Plants in anaerobic or dry environments decompose slowly
  • Plant tissue:
    • broadleaf perennials (high concentrations of nitrogen, leaf tissue readily decays)
    • high marsh grasses (low nitrogen concentrations and structural tissue resistant to decay)
      • Litter tends to accumulate around persistent grasses
      • Low erosion rates ( and low tidal energy)
organic export
Organic Export
  • Losses of organic carbon from marshes occur through respiration
    • Peat forms below root zone
    • Can convert to methane that escapes as a gas
    • Exported in bodies of consumers that feed on the marsh
  • In anaerobic freshwater, little sulfur available, carbon dioxide can be reduced to methane (which is lost to the atmosphere)
nutrient budgets
Nutrient budgets
  • Appears to be similar to salt water marshes
    • Open systems
    • Long-term sinks, sources or transformers of nutrients
    • Most inputs are inorganic transformed chemically or biologically to organic forms
    • Recycle most nutrients used within the system; imports and exports are a small percentage of the total material cycled
marsh vegetation brackish to fresh
Marsh Vegetation –Brackish to Fresh
  • Marsh cord grass (Spartinacynosuroides)
  • Narrow leaved cat-tail (Typhaangustifolia)
  • Coastal cat-tail (Typhadomingensis)
  • Marsh fleabane (Plucheapurpurascens)
  • Arrow-arum (Peltandra virginica)
  • Wild rice (Zizaniaaquatica
  • Swamp rose (Rosa palustris)
  • Mallows (Hibiscus spp.)
plants indicating freshwater
Wax myrtle (Myricacerifera)

Sedges (Carex spp.)

Jewelweed (Impatienscapensis)

Blue flag (Irisversicolor)

Broadleaf cat-tail (Typhalatifolia)

Wild celery (Vallisneriaspiralis)

Red maple (Acerrubrum)

Water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)

Plants indicating Freshwater
algae microscopic organisms
Algae & Microscopic Organisms
  • Algae
    • Green (Chlorophytes)
    • Blue-green (Cyanophytes)
  • Plankton (non to poor swimmers)
    • Protozoans (animal like w/flagella)
      • dinoflagellates
    • Diatoms (type of phytoplankton; phyto = green)
      • Building block of food chain
    • Forams (animal like, eat diatoms)
  • Bacteria
larger lower animals

Small snails


Shrimp (various spp.)

Crab (various spp.)



Bivalve (oyster, bent mussel)


Sea squirt

Larger Lower Animals
fish and shellfish classification
Fish and Shellfish Classification
  • Anadromous (spawns in freshwater, lives in saltwater); Semiandromous (spawns in freshwater adults remain in lower estuaries) ex. Striped bass, Herring. Shad, Sturgeon; Catadromous (spawns in saltwater, lives in freshwater) ex. ex. American eel
  • Estuarine-Marine (a few species move into freshwater marshes to spawn) ex. Spot, Croaker, Brown Shrimp, Summer Flounder
  • Estuarine (complete entire lifecycle in estuary, extend range into freshwater marshes) ex. Killifish, Bay Anchovy, Hogchoker
  • Freshwater (spawn and complete lives in freshwater areas) ex. Bluegill, Sunfish, Largemouth Bass
amphibians and reptiles
Amphibians and Reptiles
  • Frogs, Toads
  • Diamondback Terrapins
  • American alligator
  • Water snakes ex. Cottonmouth moccasins
birds 280 species reported
Birds – 280 speciesreported
  • Waterfowl (44 spp.)
  • Wading birds (15 spp.)
  • Rails and shorebirds (35 spp.)
  • Birds of prey (23 spp.)
  • Gulls, terns, kingfishers and crows (20 spp.)
  • Arboreal birds (90 spp.)
  • Ground and shrub birds (53 spp.)
  • Muskrat
  • Nutria
  • Meadow mouse, white footed mouse
  • Cottontail
  • Fox
  • Raccoon
  • Otter
  • Opossum
  • Skunk
  • Whitetail deer
  • Manatee
  • Beaver
floating marshes
Floating Marshes
  • Usually associated with non-tidal systems
  • Marsh substrate composed of a thick organic mat, entwined with living roots that rises and falls with the surrounding water levels
  • Coastal Louisiana tidal marshes has the largest area of floating marshes in US
    • The flora is diverse but dominated by ferns in spring and Panicum hemitomon in summer and fall

Alongi,D.M. 1998. Coastal Ecosystem Processes. Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis. pp. 419.

Bertness, Mark D. 1999. The Ecology of Atlantic Shorelines, Sinauer Associates, Inc. Pbulishers Sunderland, Massachusetts, pp. 417.

McLusky, D.S. 1981. The Estuarine Ecosystem. John Wiley &Sons, New York. pp. 150.

Mitsch, William J. and James G. Gosselink. 1993. Wetlands, 2d ed., Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, pp. 722.

Odum, W. E., T. J. Smith III, J.K. Hoover, C.C. McIvor. 1984. The Ecology of Tidal Freshwater Marshes of the United States East Coast: A Community Profile, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FWS/OBS-83/17,Washington, D.C., pp. 177.

Pomeroy, L.R. and Weigert,R.G. 1981. The Ecology of a Salt Marsh. Springer-Verlag, New York. pp. 271

Roberts, Mervin F. 1979. The Tidemarsh Guide, E.P. Dutton, a Division of Sequoia-Elsevier, New York, pp. 240.


Shabreck,R.H. 1988. Coastal Marsh Ecosystem and Wildlife Management. Univ. of Minnesota Press. pp.138

Statler, Richard. 1993. Barrier Island Botany The Southern United States, Wm. C. Brown Dubuque, Iowa, pp. 164.

Tiner, Ralph W. Jr.. 1987. A Field Guide to Coastal Wetland Plants of the Northeastern United States,The University of Massachusetts Press, pp. 285.

Wharton, Charles H.. 1978. The Natural Environments of Georgia, Geological and Water resources Division and Resource Planning Section, Office of Planning and Research Georgia Department of Natural Resources Atlanta, Georgia, pp. 227. (photo gallery) ( plant photo gallery)