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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2025
  2. Salt marshes play a crucial role in coastal biogeochemical cycles and provide unique ecosystem services. Salt marsh biomass, which can strongly influence such services, varies over time in response to hydrologic conditions and other environmental drivers. We used gap-filled monthly observations ofSpartina alternifloraaboveground biomass derived from Landsat 5 and Landsat 8 satellite imagery from 1984-2018 to analyze temporal patterns in biomass in comparison to air temperature, precipitation, river discharge, nutrient input, sea level, and drought index for a southeastern US salt marsh. Wavelet analysis and ensemble empirical mode decomposition identified month to multi-year periodicities in both plant biomass and environmental drivers. Wavelet coherence detected cross-correlations between annual biomass cycles and precipitation, temperature, river discharge, nutrient concentrations (NOxand PO43–) and sea level. At longer periods we detected coherence between biomass and all variables except precipitation. Through empirical dynamic modeling we showed that temperature, river discharge, drought, sea level, and river nutrient concentrations were causally connected to salt marsh biomass and exceeded the confounding effect of seasonality. This study demonstrated the insights into biomass dynamics and causal connections that can be gained through the analysis of long-term data.

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  3. Abstract

    Quantifying ecosystem resilience to disturbance is important for understanding the effects of disturbances on ecosystems, especially in an era of rapid global change. However, there are few studies that have used standardized experimental disturbances to compare resilience patterns across abiotic gradients in real‐world ecosystems. Theoretical studies have suggested that increased return times are associated with increasing variance during recovery from disturbance. However, this notion has rarely been explicitly tested in field, in part due to the challenges involved in obtaining long‐term experimental data. In this study, we examined resilience to disturbance of 12 coastal marsh sites (five low‐salinity and seven polyhaline [=salt] marshes) along a salinity gradient in Georgia, USA. We found that recovery times after experimental disturbance ranged from 7 to >127 months, and differed among response variables (vegetation height, cover and composition). Recovery rates decreased along the stress gradient of increasing salinity, presumably due to stress reducing plant vigor, but only when low‐salinity and polyhaline sites were analyzed separately, indicating a strong role for traits of dominant plant species. The coefficient of variation of vegetation cover and height in control plots did not vary with salinity. In disturbed plots, however, the coefficient of variation (CV) was consistently elevated during the recovery period and increased with salinity. Moreover, higher CV values during recovery were correlated with slower recovery rates. Our results deepen our understanding of resilience to disturbance in natural ecosystems, and point to novel ways that variance can be used either to infer recent disturbance, or, if measured in areas with a known disturbance history, to predict recovery patterns.

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  6. Summary

    Spatiotemporal patterns ofSpartina alterniflorabelowground biomass (BGB) are important for evaluating salt marsh resiliency. To solve this, we created the BERM (Belowground Ecosystem Resiliency Model), which estimates monthly BGB (30‐m spatial resolution) from freely available data such as Landsat‐8 and Daymet climate summaries.

    Our modeling framework relied on extreme gradient boosting, and used field observations from four Georgia salt marshes as ground‐truth data. Model predictors included estimated tidal inundation, elevation, leaf area index, foliar nitrogen, chlorophyll, surface temperature, phenology, and climate data. The final model included 33 variables, and the most important variables were elevation, vapor pressure from the previous four months, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from the previous five months, and inundation.

    Root mean squared error for BGB from testing data was 313 g m−2(11% of the field data range), explained variance (R2) was 0.62–0.77. Testing data results were unbiased across BGB values and were positively correlated with ground‐truth data across all sites and years (r = 0.56–0.82 and 0.45–0.95, respectively).

    BERM can estimate BGB withinSpartina alterniflorasalt marshes where environmental parameters are within the training data range, and can be readily extended through a reproducible workflow. This provides a powerful approach for evaluating spatiotemporal BGB and associated ecosystem function.

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