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Conditional outcome of ecosystem engineering: a case study on tussocks of the salt marsh pioneer Spartina anglica
Balke, T.; Klaassen, P.C.; Garbutt, A.; van der Wal, D.; Herman, P.M.J.; Bouma, T.J. (2012). Conditional outcome of ecosystem engineering: a case study on tussocks of the salt marsh pioneer Spartina anglica. Geomorphology (Amst.) 153-154: 232-238. hdl.handle.net/10.1016/j.geomorph.2012.03.002
In: Geomorphology. Elsevier: Amsterdam; New York; Oxford; Tokyo. ISSN 0169-555X, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keywords
    Spartina Schreb. [WoRMS]; Brackish water
Author keywords
    Cordgrass; Tidal flat; Context dependency; Biogeomorphology; Salt marsh; Pioneer zone

Authors  Top 
  • van der Wal, D., more
  • Herman, P.M.J., more
  • Bouma, T.J., more

Abstract
    The salt marsh grass Spartina anglica is an important habitat-modifying ecosystem engineering agent that facilitates large-scale salt marsh formation by enhancing sediment accretion. It dominates many European tidal environments and is invasive in many other parts of the world. We question (1) to what extent the ecosystem engineering ability of patchy Spartina vegetation depends on large-scale abiotic processes, and (2) whether tussock shape provides an indicator for future lateral salt marsh development. Analysing the topography of 83 individual tussocks in contrasting environments revealed that there are 6 clearly distinguishable tussock shapes, and that the classical example of a sediment-accumulating dome-shaped tussock only occurs under a limited set of abiotic conditions. The outcome of habitat modification by S. anglica is shown to be conditional, depending on large-scale morphodynamics and sediment grain size. Resulting tussock shape provides a clear indication for the long-term development of the pioneer zone. Understanding of the conditional outcome of ecosystem engineering is highly relevant in this era of climate change and ongoing anthropogenic influences on coastal ecosystems.

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