Catherine de Rivera

Date of Award

Summer 9-8-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Environmental Science and Management


Environmental Science and Management

Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 88 pages)


Marine invertebrates, Salt marsh plants -- Effect of stress on, Plants -- Effect of stress on, Salt marsh restoration, Wetland restoration




Appreciation of the ecological and economic values associated with healthy salt marshes has led to a recent rise in the number of marshes that are being targeted for restoration by dike removal. The success of restoration is often measured by the return of marsh plants, though this overlooks a key component of salt marshes, that of the invertebrate community within marsh sediments. To evaluate the short-term recovery of these invertebrates, sediment cores were collected across an elevational gradient in a recent dike removal marsh, one and two years post removal, and a nearby reference marsh. Abundance, richness and diversity as well as morphospecies community composition were compared across treatment groups (Reference, Removal) and elevation zone (High Marsh, Low Marsh). Morphospecies richness, abundance and diversity were significantly higher in Low Marsh samples than in High Marsh samples, though no statistically significant differences were found across treatments of the same elevation (e.g., Reference Low Marsh versus Removal Low Marsh). Pair-wise ANOSIM results found significant differences between community compositions across treatments, specifically Reference Low Marsh and Removal Low Marsh.

The marsh edge, the lowest point of vascular plant growth before transitioning to tide flats, is considered a high stress environment for emergent vegetation. Plant establishment and survival in this low elevation zone is limited by the tolerance to inundation duration and frequency and anoxic sediments. Bioturbation and burrowing by macroinvertebrates increases the surface area exposed to surface water for gas exchange, increasing the depth of the redox potential discontinuity layer. Crabs that make stable, maintained burrows have been shown to increase oxygen penetration into sediment, improving plant productivity. Such crabs are not found in salt marshes of the Pacific Northwest of North America. However, other burrowing invertebrates may have a positive impact on plant health in these areas by reducing abiotic stress due to anoxic sediments, thereby allowing plants to establish and survive lower in the intertidal zone. To assess this potential relationship, study plots of Distichlis spicata were selected at equivalent elevations at the lowest point of plant establishment at the marsh edge. Focal plant rhizomes were severed from upland ramets and assigned an invertebrate abundance treatment based on a visual burrow count surrounding each plant (9 cm diameter). Focal plants were visited monthly from July to September 2016, plant health variables of chlorophyll content and chlorophyll fluorescence (photosynthetic efficiency), and sediment ORP readings were collected. Plant survivorship was significantly higher in plots with invertebrates, 96% of plants in 'With Invertebrate' plots and 50% of plants in 'No Invertebrates' plots survived the duration of the study. Plant health (chlorophyll content and chlorophyll fluorescence) generally increased with increased invertebrate presence though, not statistically significant. There may be potential for improved plant productivity and resilience to plants at the marsh edge due to invertebrate burrowing activity. This benefit could help mitigate projected losses in plant productivity due to sea level rise, though more research is needed to investigate the mechanism by which these invertebrates confer a health benefit to plants at the marsh edge.

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