Concepts and Controversies in Tidal Marsh Ecology
Tidal salt marshes are viewed as critical habitats for the production of fish and shellfish. As a result, considerable legislation has been promulgated to conserve and protect these habitats, and much of it is in effect today. The relatively young science of ecological engineering has also emerged, and there are now attempts to reverse centuries-old losses by encouraging sound wetland restoration practices. Today, tens of thousands of hectares of degraded or isolated coastal wetlands are being restored worldwide. Whether restored wetlands reach functional equivalency to 'natural' systems is a subject of heated debate. Equally debatable is the paradigm that depicts tidal salt marshes as the 'great engine' that drives much of the secondary production in coastal waters. This view was questioned in the early 1980s by investigators who noted that total carbon export, on the order of 100 to 200 g m-2 y-1 was of much lower magnitude than originally thought. These authors also recognized that some marshes were either net importers of carbon, or showed no net exchange. Thus, the notion of 'outwelling' has become but a single element in an evolving view of marsh function and the link between primary and secondary production. The 'revisionist' movement was launched in 1979 when stable isotopic ratios of macrophytes and animal tissues were found to be 'mismatched'. Some eighteen years later, the view of marsh function is still undergoing additional modification, and we are slowly unraveling the complexities of biogeochemical cycles, nutrient exchange, and the links between primary producers and the marsh/estuary fauna. Yet, since Teal's seminal paper nearly forty years ago, we are not much closer to understanding how marshes work. If anything, we have learned that the story is far more complicated than originally thought. Despite more than four decades of intense research, we do not yet know how salt marshes function as essential habitat, nor do...
- Authors / Editors:
- M.P. Weinstein; Daniel A. Kreeger
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