Are <i>Spartina</i> marshes a replaceable resource? A functional approach to evaluation of marsh creation efforts

Moy, LD, Levin LA.  1991.  Are Spartina marshes a replaceable resource? A functional approach to evaluation of marsh creation efforts Estuaries. 14:1-16.

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abundance, brown shrimp, community, fish, food, growth, juvenile, killifish fundulus-heteroclitus, penaeus-aztecus, predator prey relationships, salt-marsh


Marsh creation has come into increasing use as a measure to mitigate loss of valuable wetlands. However, few programs have addressed the functional ecological equivalence of man-made marshes and their natural counterparts. This study addresses structural and functional interactions in a man-made and two natural marshes. This was done by integrating substrate characteristics and marsh utilization by organisms of two trophic levels. Sediment properties, infaunal community composition, and Fundulus heteroclitus marsh utilization were compared for a man-made Spartina salt marsh (between ages 1 to 3 yr) in Dills Creek, North Carolina, and adjacent natural marshes to the east and west. East natural marsh and planted marsh sediment grain-size distributions were more similar to each other than to the west natural marsh due to shared drainage systems, but sediment organic content of the planted marsh was much lower than in either natural marsh. This difference was reflected in macrofaunal composition. Natural marsh sediments were inhabited primarily by subsurface, deposit-feeding oligochaetes whereas planted marsh sediments were dominated by the tube-building, surface-deposit feeding polychaetes Streblospio benedicti and Manayunkia aestuarina. Infaunal differences were mirrored in Fundulus diets. Natural marsh diets contained more detritus and insects because oligochaetes, though abundant, were relatively inaccessible. Polychaetes and algae were major constituents of the planted marsh Fundulus diet. Though natural-marsh fish may acquire a potentially less nutritive, detritus-based diet relative to the higher animal protein diet of the planted marsh fish, Fundulus abundances were markedly lower in the planted marsh than in the natural marshes, indicating fewer fish were being supported. Lower Spartina stem densities in the planted marsh may have provided inadequate protection from predation or insufficient spawning sites for the fundulids. After three years, the planted marsh remained functionally distinct from the adjacent natural marshes. Mitigation success at Dills Creek could have been improved by increasing tidal flushing, thereby enhancing access to marine organisms and by mulching with Spartina wrack to increase sediment organic-matter content and porosity. Results from this study indicate that salt marshes should not be treated as a replaceable resource in the short term. The extreme spatial and temporal variability inherent to salt marshes make it virtually impossible to exactly replace a marsh by planting one on another site.