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Title: Geographic Variation in Salt Marsh Structure and Function for Nekton: a Guide to Finding Commonality Across Multiple Scales
Coastal salt marshes are distributed widely across the globe and are considered essential habitat for many fish and crustacean species. Yet, the literature on fishery support by salt marshes has largely been based on a few geographically distinct model systems, and as a result, inadequately captures the hierarchical nature of salt marsh pattern, process, and variation across space and time. A better understanding of geographic variation and drivers of commonalities and differences across salt marsh systems is essential to informing future management practices. Here, we address the key drivers of geographic variation in salt marshes: hydroperiod, seascape configuration, geomorphology, climatic region, sediment supply and riverine input, salinity, vegetation composition, and human activities. Future efforts to manage, conserve, and restore these habitats will require consideration of how environmental drivers within marshes affect the overall structure and subsequent function for fisheries species. We propose a future research agenda that provides both the consistent collection and reporting of sources of variation in small-scale studies and collaborative networks running parallel studies across large scales and geographically distinct locations to provide analogous information for data poor locations. These comparisons are needed to identify and prioritize restoration or conservation efforts, identify sources of variation among regions, more » and best manage fisheries and food resources across the globe. Introduction Understanding the drivers of geographic variation in the condition and composition of habitats is crucial to our capacity to generalize management plans across space and time and to clarify and perhaps challenge assumptions of functional equivalence among sites. Broadly defined wetland types such as salt marshes are often assumed to provide similar functions throughout their global range, such as providing nursery habitat for fishery species. However, a growing body of evidence suggests substantial geographic variation in the functioning of salt marsh and other coastal ecosystems (Bradley et al. 2020; Whalen et al. 2020). Variation in ecological patterns and processes within habitat types can alter community structure and dynamics. Local-scale patterns and processes (e.g., patch [10s of meters], local [100s of meters]) can be influenced by processes that occur at larger spatial scales (e.g., regional [kms], global), thereby causing geographic differences in the function and ecosystem service delivery of a given habitat type. Salt marshes (which include vegetated platform, interconnected tidal creeks, fringing mudflats, ponds, and pools) are widely distributed (Fig. 1) and function as valuable nursery habitats by providing key resources for many estuarine species that transition to marine or aquatic habitats as adults (Beck et al. 2001; Minello et al. 2003; Sheaves et al. 2015). However, factors that underlie variability in the delivery of ecological functions are still inadequately understood. Previous studies have explored geographic variation in the function of salt marshes for fish and mobile crustaceans (“nekton”; e.g., Minello et al. 2012, Baker et al. 2013). However, field studies that compare multiple sites across a geographical gradient are typically limited in duration and scale. In addition, the explanatory variables (e.g., elevation, flooding duration, plant structure) collected by smaller scale studies are often inconsistent and therefore limit generalizations across sites. « less
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Award ID(s):
1902704 1902712 1637630
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Estuaries and Coasts
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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