Landmark Study Shows Collapse of East Coast Salt Marshes Due to Excess Nutrients

Landmark Study Shows Collapse of East Coast Salt Marshes Due to Excess Nutrients

Oct 24, 2012

In a paper published in the journal Nature, scientists explain why salt marshes have been disintegrating during the past two decades along the U.S. Eastern seaboard and other highly developed coastlines. Unexpectedly, they discovered that nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from septic and sewer systems and lawn fertilizers can cause salt marsh loss.

The researchers, including aquatic ecosystem ecologist Wilfred Wollheim of UNH, based their findings on a long-term, large-scale study of salt marsh landscapes in an undeveloped coastline section of the Plum Island Estuary in Massachusetts. A nitrogen flux model Wollheim developed was used to demonstrate potential areas of global vulnerability.

The nine-year Plum Island experiment is the first to show that nutrient enrichment can be a driver of salt marsh loss.

The study is part of the Plum Island Ecosystem Long-Term Ecological Research (PIE-LTER) program, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The PIE-LTER conducts basic science and provides information to coastal managers to help them make more informed decisions.

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