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  1. Consumer-mediated movement can couple food webs in distinct habitats and facilitate energy flow between them. In New England saltmarshes, mummichogs (Fundulus heteroclitus) connect the vegetated marsh and creek food webs by opportunistically foraging on the invertebrate communities of the marsh surface when access is permitted by tidal flooding and marsh-edge geomorphology. Via their movements, mummichog represent a critical food web node, as they can potentially transport energy from the marsh surface food web to creek food web and exert top-down control on the communities of the vegetated marsh surface. Here, I use gut content analysis, calorimetric analysis, and field surveysmore »to demonstrate that access to the marsh surface (afforded by marsh-edge geomorphology) impacts the trophic relay of marsh production to creek food webs. Fish populations in creeks with greater connectivity had a higher total biomass of terrestrial invertebrates in their guts. However, bomb calorimetry showed no difference in the average caloric content of mummichog individuals from creeks with different creek edge geomorphology. Access also did not impact mummichog distribution across the marsh platform and exhibited no evidence of top-down control on their invertebrate prey. Thus, mummichogs function as initial nodes in the trophic relay, unidirectionally moving energy from the vegetated marsh to the creek food web. Reduced marsh surface access via altered marsh-edge geomorphology results in a 50 % to 66 % reduction in total energy available to aquatic predators via this route. Estuarine systems are intimately connected to coastal and offshore systems via consumer mediated flows of energy; thus, disruptions to the trophic relay from the marsh surface at the tidal creek scale can have far reaching impacts on secondary productivity in multiple disparate systems and must be accounted for in considerations of impacts to future food-web function.« less
  2. The use of nutrients by diverse phytoplankton communities in estuarine systems, and their response to changes in physical and biogeochemical processes in these natural systems, is a significant ongoing area of research. We used a whole ecosystem 15NO3− tracer experiment to determine the uptake of different nitrogen (N) forms in phytoplankton functional groups over a mid- to neap tidal cycle in a salt marsh creek in Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts, USA. We quantified the biomass and δ15N for three groups corresponding to micro- (20–200 μm; microP), nano- (3–20 μm; nanoP), and picophytoplankton (< 3 μm; picoP). All three size classesmore »showed distinct use of recycled N sources throughout the 11-day sampling period and minimal direct assimilation of the 15NO3− tracer. MicroP consistently used high amounts of creek-derived 15NH4+, even with a shift at neap tide from diatom- to dinoflagellate-dominated communities (including members of the harmful genus Alexandrium). NanoP use of recycled 15NH4+ increased over the mid-neap tidal cycle, while picoP use decreased. Both biomass and NH4+ use (as highest δ15N values) of all size groups were maximized during neap tide. This study demonstrates partitioning of recycled N use among size-based phytoplankton groups in the estuary, with distinct effects of tidal cycle on the nutrient uptake of each group, and with important implications for the roles of diverse phytoplankton communities in estuarine nutrient cycling.« less
  3. Abstract Climate change is altering naturally fluctuating environmental conditions in coastal and estuarine ecosystems across the globe. Departures from long-term averages and ranges of environmental variables are increasingly being observed as directional changes [e.g., rising sea levels, sea surface temperatures (SST)] and less predictable periodic cycles (e.g., Atlantic or Pacific decadal oscillations) and extremes (e.g., coastal flooding, marine heatwaves). Quantifying the short- and long-term impacts of climate change on tidal marsh seascape structure and function for nekton is a critical step toward fisheries conservation and management. The multiple stressor framework provides a promising approach for advancing integrative, cross-disciplinary research onmore »tidal marshes and food web dynamics. It can be used to quantify climate change effects on and interactions between coastal oceans (e.g., SST, ocean currents, waves) and watersheds (e.g., precipitation, river flows), tidal marsh geomorphology (e.g., vegetation structure, elevation capital, sedimentation), and estuarine and coastal nekton (e.g., species distributions, life history adaptations, predator-prey dynamics). However, disentangling the cumulative impacts of multiple interacting stressors on tidal marshes, whether the effects are additive, synergistic, or antagonistic, and the time scales at which they occur, poses a significant research challenge. This perspective highlights the key physical and ecological processes affecting tidal marshes, with an emphasis on the trophic linkages between marsh production and estuarine and coastal nekton, recommended for consideration in future climate change studies. Such studies are urgently needed to understand climate change effects on tidal marshes now and into the future.« less
  4. 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, climaticmore »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, 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
  5. Abstract Excess reactive nitrogen (N) flows from agricultural, suburban, and urban systems to coasts, where it causes eutrophication. Coastal wetlands take up some of this N, thereby ameliorating the impacts on nearshore waters. Although the consequences of N on coastal wetlands have been extensively studied, the effect of the specific form of N is not often considered. Both oxidized N forms (nitrate, NO3−) and reduced forms (ammonium, NH4+) can relieve nutrient limitation and increase primary production. However, unlike NH4+, NO3− can also be used as an electron acceptor for microbial respiration. We present results demonstrating that, in salt marshes, microbesmore »use NO3− to support organic matter decomposition and primary production is less stimulated than when enriched with reduced N. Understanding how different forms of N mediate the balance between primary production and decomposition is essential for managing coastal wetlands as N enrichment and sea level rise continue to assail our coasts.« less
  6. Sills, Jennifer (Ed.)