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Title Salt Marsh Dieback: The response of Spartina alterniflora to disturbances and the consequences for marsh invertebrates
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Spartina alterniflora is a foundation species that plays a disproportionately critical role in salt marshes, as it ameliorates chemical and physical stress to other plants and animals, provides essential habitat, protection from predators, and a source of organic matter to associated fauna. Disturbances including sudden dieback, herbivore overgrazing, and wrack deposition can lead to a loss of Spartina and thus, indirectly affect the invertebrate community. My goals were 1) to examine the effects on the invertebrate communities in 2 different geographical regions (GA, LA) and among 4 different disturbances within a region (GA), 2) to determine whether various disturbances would elicit a similar and predictable physiological response (the DMSO:DMSP ratio, and metal load) in Spartina that could be used as a sensitive and predictable indicator of stress among various disturbance types, and 3) to document the never before described long-term trajectory and patterns of recovery from sudden dieback in a Spartina and Juncus roemerianus marsh. Spartina loss in GA and LA led to similar decreases in Littoraria irrorata (periwinkle snails), but there were strong differences in the responses of infauna between the states and among years. These results suggested context-dependency in both the effect of foundation species within a geographical region and in the evaluation of the ecosystem service provided at the time of sampling. Overall and despite differing results, it was found that Spartina was ultimately important in maintaining the invertebrate communities in both states. However, within a geographical region, both the physiological response of Spartina and the indirect response of the invertebrates to Spartina loss were similar and predictable among four different disturbances. The DMSO:DMSP ratio and metal loads were increased in affected Spartina plants (often responsive in otherwise green leaves) and periwinkle snails and benthic macroinfauna (density, taxon richness, and diversity) were significantly decreased in affected areas, regardless of disturbance type. Vegetation recovery at sudden dieback is occurring slowly (on the order of a decade) via rhizomes extension from healthy areas, and thus understanding the effects to invertebrates is important, as disturbances such as these are expected to increase with climate change and anthropogenic effects.

Contributor Caroline R. McFarlin

McFarlin, C.R. 2012. Salt Marsh Dieback: The response of Spartina alterniflora to disturbances and the consequences for marsh invertebrates. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Georgia, Athens, GA. 238 pages.

Key Words benthic macroinfauna, chlorophyll a, DMSO, DMSP, foundation species, Juncus roemerianus, Littoraria irrorata, metals, salt marsh dieback, SINERR Publication, Spartina alterniflora, Student Publication, UGAMI Publication
File Date 2012
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grants OCE-9982133, OCE-0620959, OCE-1237140 and OCE-1832178. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.