Salt marsh elevation and geomorphic stability depends on mineral sedimentation. Many Mediterraneanclimate salt marshes along southern California, USA coast import sediment during El Niño storm events, but sediment fluxes and mechanisms during dry weather are potentially important for marsh stability. We calculated tidal creek sediment fluxes within a highly modified, sediment-starved, 1.5-km 2 salt marsh (Seal Beach) and a less modified 1-km 2 marsh (Mugu) with fluvial sediment supply. We measured salt marsh plain suspended sediment concentration and vertical accretion using single stage samplers and marker horizons. At Seal Beach, a 2014 storm yielded 39 and 28 g/s mean sediment fluxes and imported 12,000 and 8800 kg in a western and eastern channel. Western channel storm imports offset 8700 kg exported during 2 months of dry weather, while eastern channel storm imports augmented 9200 kg imported during dry weather. During the storm at Mugu, suspended sediment concentrations on the marsh plain increased by a factor of four; accretion was 1-2 mm near creek levees. An exceptionally high tide sequence yielded 4.4 g/s mean sediment flux, importing 1700 kg: 20 % of Mugu's dry weather fluxes. Overall, low sediment fluxes were observed, suggesting that these salt marshes are geomorphically stable during dry weather conditions. Results suggest storms and high lunar tides may play large roles, importing sediment and maintaining dry weather sediment flux balances for southern California salt marshes. However, under future climate change and sea level rise scenarios, results suggest that balanced sediment fluxes lead to marsh elevational instability based on estimated mineral sediment deficits.
Sea‐level rise (SLR) impacts on intertidal habitat depend on coastal topology, accretion, and constraints from surrounding development. Such habitat changes might affect species like Belding's savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi; BSSP), which live in high‐elevation salt marsh in the Southern California Bight. To predict how BSSP habitat might change under various SLR scenarios, we first constructed a suitability model by matching bird observations with elevation. We then mapped current BSSP breeding and foraging habitat at six estuarine sites by applying the elevation‐suitability model to digital elevation models. To estimate changes in digital elevation models under different SLR scenarios, we used a site‐specific, one‐dimensional elevation model (wetland accretion rate model of ecosystem resilience). We then applied our elevation‐suitability model to the projected digital elevation models. The resulting maps suggest that suitable breeding and foraging habitat could decline as increased inundation converts middle‐ and high‐elevation suitable habitat to mudflat and subtidal zones. As a result, the highest SLR scenario predicted that no suitable breeding or foraging habitat would remain at any site by 2100 and 2110. Removing development constraints to facilitate landward migration of high salt marsh, or redistributing dredge spoils to replace submerged habitat, might create future high salt marsh habitat, thereby reducing extirpation risk for BSSP in southern California.
Within isolated and fragmented populations, species interactions such as predation can cause shifts in community structure and demographics in tidal marsh ecosystems. It is critical to incorporate species interactions into our understanding when evaluating the effects of sea‐level rise and storm surges on tidal marshes. In this study, we hypothesize that avian predators will increase their presence and hunting activities during high tides when increased inundation makes their prey more vulnerable. We present evidence that there is a relationship between tidal inundation depth and time of day on the presence, abundance, and behavior of avian predators. We introduce predation pressure as a combined probability of predator presence related to water level. Focal surveys were conducted at four tidal marshes in the San Francisco Bay, California where tidal inundation patterns were monitored across 6 months of the winter. Sixteen avian predator species were observed. During high tide at Tolay Slough marsh, ardeids had a 29‐fold increase in capture attempts and 4 times greater apparent success rate compared with low tide. Significantly fewer raptors and ardeids were found on low tides than on high tides across all sites. There were more raptors in December and January and more ardeids in January than in other months. Ardeids were more prevalent in the morning, while raptors did not exhibit a significant response to time of day. Modeling results showed that raptors had a unimodal response to water level with a peak at 0.5 m over the marsh platform, while ardeids had an increasing response with water level. We found that predation pressure is related to flooding of the marsh surface, and short‐term increases in sea levels from high astronomical tides, sea‐level rise, and storm surges increase vulnerability of tidal marsh wildlife.
This paper presents the first record of fire in Pacific coast salt marshes; the 1993 Green Meadows Fire and the 2013 Camarillo Springs Fire burned an area of Salicornia-dominated salt marsh at Point Mugu, CA. These fires inspire concern about resiliency of ecosystems not adapted to fire, already threatened by sea-level rise (SLR), and under stress from extreme drought. We monitored vegetation percent cover, diversity, and soil organic carbon (SOC) in burned and unburned areas of the salt marsh following the 2013 Camarillo Springs Fire and used remotely sensed Normalized Vegetation Difference Index (NDVI) analysis to verify the in situ data. Two years following the fire, vegetation percent cover in burned areas was significantly lower than in unburned areas, with dominant-species change in recovered areas, and NDVI was lower than pre-fire conditions. Multi-year disturbance, such as fire, presents challenges for salt marsh resilience and dependent species, especially in sites facing multiple stressors. With anticipated higher temperatures, increased aridity, extreme drought, and higher frequency fires becoming a reality for much of the Pacific coast, this study indicates that fire in Salicornia-dominated marshes is a vulnerability that will need to be addressed differently from other grass-or reed-dominated marsh systems.
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