The effect of sea level rise on seagrasses: Is sediment adjacent to retreating marshes suitable for seagrass growth?

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2005-12-13

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Salt marsh retreat resulting from sea level rise creates new subtidal substrate (old marsh peat) for seagrasses, which is usually unvegetated. The hypothesis that sediment characteristics of old marsh peat are limiting to <em>Zostera marina</em> was tested in Chincoteague Bay, Maryland and in controlled experiments. A unique aspect of the study site is an eroding dune within the marsh that supplies sand to the subtidal. The organic content and sulfide concentrations of old marsh peat were not limiting <em>Z. marina</em> growth and seagrasses were able to colonize the old marsh peat if a layer of sand covered it. The lack of <em>Z. marina<em/> in old marsh peat may be due to a plant morphology that is highly susceptible to dislodgement. These findings suggest that seagrass distribution may be negatively affected by sea level rise as seagrasses may be unable to migrate shoreward due to unsuitable sediments adjacent to retreating marshes.

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