Effect of changes in intertidal foundation species on coastal geomorphological resistance

Dr Steven Pennings1, Dr. Zoe Hughes2, Dr. John Kominoski3, Rachael Glazner4, Anna Armitage4

1University Of Houston, Houston, United States, 2Boston University, Boston, United States, 3Florida International University, Miami, United States, 4Texas A&M University Galveston Campus, Galveston, United States

Intertidal wetlands are dominated by a limited number of plant species that often function as foundation species, in that a single species may dominate ecological processes for an entire habitat. When global change causes the foundation species to change, all ecological processes in the habitat may also change. We focused on how the expansion of mangroves on the Texas coast due to global warming is affecting the geomorphological resistance of the intertidal wetland habitat, using a field experiment in which mangrove cover was manipulated in ten 24 x 42 m plots. Within this experiment, lower mangrove cover was associated with increased edge erosion and the migration of the coastal levee back into the interior of the wetland. A possible mechanism explaining this pattern is that mangroves, due to their taller and stiffer structure compared with marsh plants, are more effective at trapping wrack (floating plant and algal debris) at the front of the plots. In addition, mangroves support a more extensive root structure than marsh plants, which may stabilize soils. These results suggest that the expansion of mangroves into higher latitudes will increase


Dr. Pennings is Moores Professor at the University of Houston. His research focuses on the geographical ecology of coastal salt marshes and mangroves.

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