Hypothetical models in the scientific literature suggest that ecosystem restoration and creation sites follow a smooth path of development (called a trajectory), rapidly matching natural reference sites (the target). Multi‐million‐dollar mitigation agreements have been based on the expectation that damages to habitat will be compensated within 5–10 years, and monitoring periods have been set accordingly. Our San Diego Bay study site, the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, has one of the longest and most detailed records of habitat development at a mitigation site: data on soil organic matter, soil nitrogen, plant growth, and plant canopies for up to 10 years from a 12‐year‐old site. High interannual variation and lack of directional changes indicate little chance that targets will be reached in the near future. Other papers perpetuate the trajectory model, despite data that corroborate our findings. After reviewing “trajectory models” and presenting our comprehensive data for the first time, we suggest alternative management and mitigation policies.
A mixing model derived from first principles describes the bulk density (BD) of intertidal wetland sediments as a function of loss on ignition (LOI). The model assumes that the bulk volume of sediment equates to the sum of self‐packing volumes of organic and mineral components or BD = 1/[LOI/k1 + (1‐LOI)/k2], where k1 and k2 are the self‐packing densities of the pure organic and inorganic components, respectively. The model explained 78% of the variability in total BD when fitted to 5075 measurements drawn from 33 wetlands distributed around the conterminous United States. The values of k1 and k2 were estimated to be 0.085 ± 0.0007 g cm−3 and 1.99 ± 0.028 g cm−3, respectively. Based on the fitted organic density (k1) and constrained by primary production, the model suggests that the maximum steady state accretion arising from the sequestration of refractory organic matter is ≤ 0.3 cm yr−1. Thus, tidal peatlands are unlikely to indefinitely survive a higher rate of sea‐level rise in the absence of a significant source of mineral sediment. Application of k2 to a mineral sediment load typical of East and eastern Gulf Coast estuaries gives a vertical accretion rate from inorganic sediment of 0.2 cm yr−1. Total steady state accretion is the sum of the parts and therefore should not be greater than 0.5 cm yr−1 under the assumptions of the model. Accretion rates could deviate from this value depending on variation in plant productivity, root:shoot ratio, suspended sediment concentration, sediment‐capture efficiency, and episodic events.
Tidal marshes maintain elevation relative to sea level through accumulation of mineral and organic matter, yet this dynamic accumulation feedback mechanism has not been modeled widely in the context of accelerated sea-level rise. Uncertainties exist about tidal marsh resiliency to accelerated sea-level rise, reduced sediment supply, reduced plant productivity under increased inundation, and limited upland habitat for marsh migration. We examined marsh resiliency under these uncertainties using the Marsh Equilibrium Model, a mechanistic, elevation-based soil cohort model, using a rich data set of plant productivity and physical properties from sites across the estuarine salinity gradient. Four tidal marshes were chosen along this gradient: two islands and two with adjacent uplands. Varying century sea-level rise (52, 100, 165, 180 cm) and suspended sediment concentrations (100%, 50%, and 25% of current concentrations), we simulated marsh accretion across vegetated elevations for 100 years, applying the results to high spatial resolution digital elevation models to quantify potential changes in marsh distributions. At low rates of sea-level rise and mid-high sediment concentrations, all marshes maintained vegetated elevations indicative of mid/high marsh habitat. With century sea-level rise at 100 and 165 cm, marshes shifted to low marsh elevations; mid/high marsh elevations were found only in former uplands. At the highest century sea-level rise and lowest sediment concentrations, the island marshes became dominated by mudflat elevations. Under the same sediment concentrations, low salinity brackish marshes containing highly productive vegetation had slower elevation loss compared to more saline sites with lower productivity. A similar trend was documented when comparing against a marsh accretion model that did not model vegetation feedbacks. Elevation predictions using the Marsh Equilibrium Model highlight the importance of including vegetation responses to sea-level rise. These results also emphasize the importance of adjacent uplands for long-term marsh survival and incorporating such areas in conservation planning efforts.
BackgroundTidal marshes will be threatened by increasing rates of sea-level rise (SLR) over the next century. Managers seek guidance on whether existing and restored marshes will be resilient under a range of potential future conditions, and on prioritizing marsh restoration and conservation activities.MethodologyBuilding upon established models, we developed a hybrid approach that involves a mechanistic treatment of marsh accretion dynamics and incorporates spatial variation at a scale relevant for conservation and restoration decision-making. We applied this model to San Francisco Bay, using best-available elevation data and estimates of sediment supply and organic matter accumulation developed for 15 Bay subregions. Accretion models were run over 100 years for 70 combinations of starting elevation, mineral sediment, organic matter, and SLR assumptions. Results were applied spatially to evaluate eight Bay-wide climate change scenarios.Principal FindingsModel results indicated that under a high rate of SLR (1.65 m/century), short-term restoration of diked subtidal baylands to mid marsh elevations (−0.2 m MHHW) could be achieved over the next century with sediment concentrations greater than 200 mg/L. However, suspended sediment concentrations greater than 300 mg/L would be required for 100-year mid marsh sustainability (i.e., no elevation loss). Organic matter accumulation had minimal impacts on this threshold. Bay-wide projections of marsh habitat area varied substantially, depending primarily on SLR and sediment assumptions. Across all scenarios, however, the model projected a shift in the mix of intertidal habitats, with a loss of high marsh and gains in low marsh and mudflats.Conclusions/SignificanceResults suggest a bleak prognosis for long-term natural tidal marsh sustainability under a high-SLR scenario. To minimize marsh loss, we recommend conserving adjacent uplands for marsh migration, redistributing dredged sediment to raise elevations, and concentrating restoration efforts in sediment-rich areas. To assist land managers, we developed a web-based decision support tool (www.prbo.org/sfbayslr).
scite is a Brooklyn-based organization that helps researchers better discover and understand research articles through Smart Citations–citations that display the context of the citation and describe whether the article provides supporting or contrasting evidence. scite is used by students and researchers from around the world and is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health.