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Ecol Appl. 2011 Jul;21(5):1731-44.

Controls on resilience and stability in a sediment-subsidized salt marsh.

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Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA.


Although the concept of self-design is frequently employed in restoration, reestablishment of primary physical drivers does not always result in a restored ecosystem having the desired ecological functions that support system resilience and stability. We investigated the use of a primary environmental driver in coastal salt marshes, sediment availability, as a means of promoting the resilience and stability of submerging deltaic salt marshes, which are rapidly subsiding due to natural and human-induced processes. We conducted a disturbance-recovery experiment across a gradient of sediment slurry addition to assess the roles of sediment elevation and soil physico-chemical characteristics on vegetation resilience and stability in two restored salt marshes of differing age (a 15-year-old site and a 5-year-old site). Salt marshes that received moderate intensities of sediment slurry addition with elevations at the mid to high intertidal zone (2-11 cm above local mean sea level; MSL) were more resilient than natural marshes. The primary regulator of enhanced resilience and stability in the restored marshes was the alleviation of flooding stress observed in the natural, unsubsidized marsh. However, stability reached a sediment addition threshold, at an elevation of 11 cm above MSL, with decreasing stability in marshes above this elevation. Declines in resilience and stability above the sediment addition threshold were principally influenced by relatively dry conditions that resulted from insufficient and infrequent flooding at high elevations. Although the older restored marsh has subsided over time, areas receiving too much sediment still had limited stability 15 years later, emphasizing the importance of applying the appropriate amount of sediment to the marsh. In contrast, treated marshes with elevations 2-11 cm above MSL were still more resilient than the natural marsh 15 years after restoration, illustrating that when performed correctly, sediment slurry addition can be a sustainable restoration technique.

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