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Title Effects of small-scale armoring and residential development on the salt marsh-upland ecotone
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Small-scale armoring placed near the marsh-upland interface to protect single-family homes is widespread but understudied. Using a nested, spatially blocked sampling design on the coast of Georgia, USA, we compared the biota and environmental characteristics of 60 marshes adjacent to either a bulkhead, a residential backyard with no armoring, or an intact forest. We found that marshes adjacent to bulkheads were at lower tidal elevations and had features typical of lower elevation marsh habitats: high coverage of the marsh grass Spartina alterniflora, high density of crab burrows, and muddy sediments. Marshes adjacent to unarmored residential sites had higher soil water content and lower porewater salinities than the armored or forested sites, suggesting that there may be increased freshwater input to the marsh at these sites. Deposition of Spartina wrack on the marsh-upland ecotone was negatively related to elevation at armored sites and positively related at unarmored residential and forested sites. Armored and unarmored residential sites had reduced densities of the high marsh crab Armases cinereum, a species that moves readily across the ecotone at forested sites, using both upland and high marsh habitats. Distance from the upland to the nearest creek was longest at forested sites. The effects observed here were subtle, perhaps because of the small-scale, scattered nature of development. Continued installation of bulkheads in the southeast could lead to greater impacts such as those reported in more densely armored areas like the northeastern USA. Moreover, bulkheads provide a barrier to inland marsh migration in the face of sea level rise. Retaining some forest vegetation at the marsh-upland interface and discouraging armoring except in cases of demonstrated need could minimize these impacts.

Contributors Alyssa Gehman, Natalie Ann McLenaghan, James Byers, Clark R. Alexander, Steven C. Pennings and Merryl Alber

Gehman, A., McLenaghan, N.A., Byers, J., Alexander, C.R. Jr., Pennings, S.C. and Alber, M. 2018. Effects of small-scale armoring and residential development on the salt marsh-upland ecotone. Estuaries and Coasts. 41(1):54-67. (DOI: 10.1007/s12237-017-0300-8)

Key Words bulkheads, Cross-site Research, residential development, shoreline armoring, SINERR Publication, Student Publication, UGAMI Publication
File Date 2018
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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.