Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Modeling Habitat Change in Salt Marshes After Tidal Restoration


Salt marshes continue to degrade in the United States due to indirect human impacts arising from tidal restrictions. Roads or berms with inadequate provision for tidal flow hinder ecosystem functions and interfere with self-maintenance of habitat, because interactions among vegetation, soil, and hydrology within tidally restricted marshes prevent them from responding to sea level rise. Prediction of the tidal range that is expected after restoration relative to the current geomorphology is crucial for successful restoration of salt marsh habitat. Both insufficient (due to restriction) and excessive (due to subsidence and sea level rise) tidal flooding can lead to loss of salt marshes. We developed and applied the Marsh Response to Hydrological Modifications model as a predictive tool to forecast the success of management scenarios for restoring full tides to previously restricted areas. We present an overview of a computer simulation tool that evaluates potential culvert installations with output of expected tidal ranges, water discharges, and flood potentials. For three New England tidal marshes we show species distributions of plants for tidally restricted and nonrestricted areas. Elevation ranges of species are used for short-term (<5 years) predictions of changes to salt marsh habitat after tidal restoration. In addition, elevation changes of the marsh substrate measured at these sites are extrapolated to predict long-term (>5 years) changes in marsh geomorphology under restored tidal regimes. The resultant tidal regime should be designed to provide habitat requirements for salt marsh plants. At sites with substantial elevation losses a balance must be struck that stimulates elevation increases by improving sediment fluxes into marshes while establishing flooding regimes appropriate to sustain the desired plants.


Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Natural Resources and the Environment

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Restoration Ecology



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© 2002 Society for Ecological Restoration