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  1. Vegetated coastal sand dunes can be vital components of flood risk reduction schemes due to their ability to act as an erosive buffer during storm surge and wave attack. However, the effects of plant morphotypes on the wave-induced erosion process are hard to quantify, in part due to the complexity of the coupled hydrodynamic, morphodynamic, and biological processes involved. In this study the effects of four vegetation types on the dune erosion process under wave action was investigated in a wave flume experiment. Sand dune profiles containing real plant arrangements at different growth stages were exposed to irregular waves at water levels producing a collision regime to simulate storm impact. Stepwise multivariate statistical analysis was carried out to determine the relationship of above- and below-ground plant variables to the physical response. Plant variables included, among others, fine root biomass, coarse root biomass, above-ground surface area, stem rotational stiffness, and mycorrhizal colonization. Morphologic variables, among others, included eroded sediment volume, cross-shore area centroid shift, and scarp retreat rate. Results showed that vegetation was able to reduce erosion during a collision regime by up to 37%. Although this reduction was found to be related to both above- and belowground plant structures and their effect on hydrodynamic processes, it was primarily accounted for by the presence of fine root biomass. Fine roots increased the shear strength of the sediment and thus lowered erosional volumes and scarp retreat rates. For each additional 100 mg/L of fine roots (dry) added to the sediment, the erosional volume was reduced by 6.6% and the scarp retreat rate was slowed by 4.6%. Coarse roots and plant-mediated mycorrhizal colonization did not significantly alter these outcomes, nor did the apparent enhancement of wave reflection caused by the fine roots. In summary, fine roots provided a unique ability to bind sediment leading to reduced dune erosion. 
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  2. Abstract

    Tropicalization is a phenomenon that is changing the structure of ecosystems around the world. Mangrove encroachment is a particular form of tropicalization that may have cascading consequences for resident fauna in subtropical coastal wetlands. There is a knowledge gap regarding the extent of interactions between basal consumers and mangroves along mangrove range edges and the consequences of these novel interactions for consumers. This study focuses on the key coastal wetland consumers,Littoraria irrorata(marsh periwinkle) andUca rapax(mudflat fiddler crabs), and their interactions with encroachingAvicennia germinans(black mangrove) in the Gulf of Mexico, USA. In food preference assays,Littorariaavoided consumingAvicenniaand selectively ingested leaf tissue from a common marsh grass,Spartina alterniflora(smooth cordgrass), a preference that was also previously documented inUca. The quality ofAvicenniaas a food source was determined by measuring the energy storage of consumers that had interacted with eitherAvicenniaor marsh plants in the lab and the field.LittorariaandUcaboth stored ~10% less energy when interacting withAvicennia, despite their different feeding behaviors and physiologies. The negative consequences of mangrove encroachment for these species at the individual level suggest that there may be negative population‐level effects as encroachment continues. Many studies have documented shifts in floral and faunal communities following mangrove replacement of salt marsh vegetation, but this study is the first to identify physiological responses that may be contributing to these shifts.

     
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  3. The organic carbon (Corg) stored in seagrass meadows is globally significant and could be relevant in strategies to mitigate increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Most of that stored Corg is in the soils that underlie the seagrasses. We explored how seagrass and soil characteristics vary among seagrass meadows across the geographic range of turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) with a goal of illuminating the processes controlling soil organic carbon (Corg) storage spanning 23° of latitude. Seagrass abundance (percent cover, biomass, and canopy height) varied by over an order of magnitude across sites, and we found high variability in soil characteristics, with Corg ranging from 0.08 to 12.59% dry weight. Seagrass abundance was a good predictor of the Corg stocks in surficial soils, and the relative importance of seagrass-derived soil Corg increased as abundance increased. These relationships suggest that first-order estimates of surficial soil Corg stocks can be made by measuring seagrass abundance and applying a linear transfer function. The relative availability of the nutrients N and P to support plant growth was also correlated with soil Corg stocks. Stocks were lower at N-limited sites than at P-limited ones, but the importance of seagrass-derived organic matter to soil Corg stocks was not a function of nutrient limitation status. This finding seemed at odds with our observation that labile standard substrates decomposed more slowly at N-limited than at P-limited sites, since even though decomposition rates were 55% lower at N-limited sites, less Corg was accumulating in the soils. The dependence of Corg stocks and decomposition rates on nutrient availability suggests that eutrophication is likely to exert a strong influence on carbon storage in seagrass meadows. 
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  4. Abstract Climate change is altering species’ range limits and transforming ecosystems. For example, warming temperatures are leading to the range expansion of tropical, cold-sensitive species at the expense of their cold-tolerant counterparts. In some temperate and subtropical coastal wetlands, warming winters are enabling mangrove forest encroachment into salt marsh, which is a major regime shift that has significant ecological and societal ramifications. Here, we synthesized existing data and expert knowledge to assess the distribution of mangroves near rapidly changing range limits in the southeastern USA. We used expert elicitation to identify data limitations and highlight knowledge gaps for advancing understanding of past, current, and future range dynamics. Mangroves near poleward range limits are often shorter, wider, and more shrublike compared to their tropical counterparts that grow as tall forests in freeze-free, resource-rich environments. The northern range limits of mangroves in the southeastern USA are particularly dynamic and climate sensitive due to abundance of suitable coastal wetland habitat and the exposure of mangroves to winter temperature extremes that are much colder than comparable range limits on other continents. Thus, there is need for methodological refinements and improved spatiotemporal data regarding changes in mangrove structure and abundance near northern range limits in the southeastern USA. Advancing understanding of rapidly changing range limits is critical for foundation plant species such as mangroves, as it provides a basis for anticipating and preparing for the cascading effects of climate-induced species redistribution on ecosystems and the human communities that depend on their ecosystem services. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  5. Abstract

    Wetlands cover a small portion of the world, but have disproportionate influence on global carbon (C) sequestration, carbon dioxide and methane emissions, and aquatic C fluxes. However, the underlying biogeochemical processes that affect wetland C pools and fluxes are complex and dynamic, making measurements of wetland C challenging. Over decades of research, many observational, experimental, and analytical approaches have been developed to understand and quantify pools and fluxes of wetland C. Sampling approaches range in their representation of wetland C from short to long timeframes and local to landscape spatial scales. This review summarizes common and cutting-edge methodological approaches for quantifying wetland C pools and fluxes. We firstdefineeach of the major C pools and fluxes and providerationalefor their importance to wetland C dynamics. For each approach, we clarifywhatcomponent of wetland C is measured and its spatial and temporal representativeness and constraints. We describe practical considerations for each approach, such aswhereandwhenan approach is typically used,whocan conduct the measurements (expertise, training requirements), andhowapproaches are conducted, including considerations on equipment complexity and costs. Finally, we reviewkey covariatesandancillary measurementsthat enhance the interpretation of findings and facilitate model development. The protocols that we describe to measure soil, water, vegetation, and gases are also relevant for related disciplines such as ecology. Improved quality and consistency of data collection and reporting across studies will help reduce global uncertainties and develop management strategies to use wetlands as nature-based climate solutions.

     
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  6. The capacity of coastal wetlands to stabilize shorelines and reduce erosion is a critical ecosystem service, and it is uncertain how changes in dominant vegetation may affect coastal protection. As part of a long-term study (2012–present) comparing ecosystem functions of marsh and black mangrove vegetation, we have experimentally maintained marsh and black mangrove patches (3 m × 3 m) along a plot-level (24 m × 42 m) gradient of marsh and mangrove cover in coastal wetlands near Port Aransas, TX. In August 2017, this experiment was directly in the path of Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 storm. This extreme disturbance event provided an opportunity to quantify differences in resistance between mangrove and marsh vegetation and to assess which vegetation type provided better shoreline protection against storm-driven erosion. We compared changes in plant cover, shoreline erosion, and accreted soil depth to values measured prior to storm landfall. Relative mangrove cover decreased 25–40% after the storm, regardless of initial cover, largely due to damage on taller mangroves (> 2.5 m height) that were not fully inundated by storm surge and were therefore exposed to strong winds. Evidence of regrowth on damaged mangrove branches was apparent within 2 months of landfall. Hurricane-induced decreases in mangrove cover were partially ameliorated by the presence of neighboring mangroves, particularly closer to the shoreline. Marsh plants were generally resistant to hurricane effects. Shoreline erosion exceeded 5 m where mangroves were absent (100% marsh cover) but was relatively modest (< 0.5 m) in plots with mangroves present (11–100% mangrove cover). Storm-driven accreted soil depth was variable but more than 2× higher in marsh patches than in mangrove patches. In general, mangroves provided shoreline protection from erosion but were also more damaged by wind and surge, which may reduce their shoreline protection capacity over longer time scales. 
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  7. Abstract

    Plant identity and cover in coastal wetlands is changing in worldwide, and many subtropical salt marshes dominated by low‐stature herbaceous species are becoming woody mangroves. Yet, how changes affect coastal soil biogeochemical processes and belowground biomass before and after storms is uncertain. We experimentally manipulated the percent mangrove cover (Avicennia germinans) in 3 × 3 m cells embedded in 10 plots (24 × 42 m) comprising a gradient of marsh (e.g.,Spartina alterniflora,Batis maritima) and mangrove cover in Texas, USA. Hurricane Harvey made direct landfall over our site on 25 August 2017, providing a unique opportunity to test how plant composition mitigates hurricane effects on surface sediment accretion, soil chemistry (carbon, C; nitrogen, N; phosphorus, P; and sulfur, S), and root biomass. Data were collected before (2013 and 2016), one‐month after (2017), and one‐year after (2018) Hurricane Harvey crossed the area, allowing us to measure stocks before and after the hurricane. The accretion depth was higher in fringe compared with interior cells of plots, more variable in cells dominated by marsh than mangrove, and declined with increasing plot‐scale mangrove cover. The concentrations of P and δ34S in storm‐driven accreted surface sediments, and the concentrations of N, P, S, and δ34S in underlying soils (0–30 cm), decreased post‐hurricane, whereas the C concentrations in both compartments were unchanged. Root biomass in both marsh and mangrove cells was reduced by 80% in 2017 compared with previous dates and remained reduced in 2018. Post‐hurricane loss of root biomass in plots correlated with enhanced nutrient limitation. Total sulfide accumulation as indicated by δ34S, increased nutrient limitation, and decreased root biomass of both marshes and mangroves after hurricanes may affect ecosystem function and increase vulnerability in coastal wetlands to subsequent disturbances. Understanding how changes in plant composition in coastal ecosystems affects responses to hurricane disturbances is needed to assess coastal vulnerability.

     
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  8. Abstract Tropical cyclones play an increasingly important role in shaping ecosystems. Understanding and generalizing their responses is challenging because of meteorological variability among storms and its interaction with ecosystems. We present a research framework designed to compare tropical cyclone effects within and across ecosystems that: a) uses a disaggregating approach that measures the responses of individual ecosystem components, b) links the response of ecosystem components at fine temporal scales to meteorology and antecedent conditions, and c) examines responses of ecosystem using a resistance–resilience perspective by quantifying the magnitude of change and recovery time. We demonstrate the utility of the framework using three examples of ecosystem response: gross primary productivity, stream biogeochemical export, and organismal abundances. Finally, we present the case for a network of sentinel sites with consistent monitoring to measure and compare ecosystem responses to cyclones across the United States, which could help improve coastal ecosystem resilience. 
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