Burrowing crabs and physical factors hasten marsh recovery at panne edges

PLoS One. 2022 Jan 5;17(1):e0249330. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249330. eCollection 2022.


Salt marsh loss is projected to increase as sea-level rise accelerates with global climate change. Salt marsh loss occurs along both lateral creek and channel edges and in the marsh interior, when pannes expand and coalesce. Often, edge loss is attributed to erosive processes whereas dieback in the marsh interior is linked to excessive inundation or deposition of wrack, but remains poorly understood. We conducted a two-year field investigation in a central California estuary to identify key factors associated with panne contraction or expansion. Our study explored how an abundant burrowing crab, shown to have strong negative effects on marsh biomass near creek edges, affects panne dynamics. We also explored which physical panne attributes best predicted their dynamics. To our knowledge, ours is the first study of panne dynamics in a California marsh, despite how ubiquitous pannes are as a feature of marshes in the region and how often extensive marsh dieback occurs via panne expansion. Overall, we found that pannes contracted during the study period, but with variable rates of marsh recovery across pannes. Our model incorporating both physical and biological factors explained 86% of the variation in panne contraction. The model revealed a positive effect of crab activity, sediment accretion, and a composite of depth and elevation on panne contraction, and a negative effect of panne size and distance to nearest panne. The positive crab effects detected in pannes contrast with negative effects we detected near creek edges in a previous study, highlighting the context-dependence of top-down and bioturbation effects in marshes. As global change continues and the magnitude and frequency of disturbances increases, understanding the dynamics of marsh loss in the marsh interior as well as creek banks will be critical for the management of these coastal habitats.

PMID:34986154 | PMC:PMC8730443 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0249330


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