Funding Source: NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program

Synopsis: Estuaries are areas where the rivers meet the sea. Changes to quantity and quality of freshwater in coastal areas, therefore, can have a drastic impact on the ecology of our estuaries. A major focus of UF/IFAS NCBS research is to determine the impact of changes to river discharge on coastal ecosystems. These projects include how restoration efforts can benefit coastal ecosystems and how reintroduction of large rivers into salt marshes can impact food webs along a range of restored marsh sites.



Figure depicting natural and restored marshes in Louisiana (red polygons) that will be sampled as part of the food web research.Why we care

Coastal land loss in Louisiana has claimed more than 4,800 km2 since the 1930s. Without preventative action, an additional 4,500 km2 of land will disappear in the next 50 years. Restoration efforts have included modifying hydrologic patterns and construction of tidal marshes and river diversions to reconnect the Mississippi River to adjacent estuaries. While these restoration efforts have shown promise for reducing land loss, little is known about their impacts on the composition of the plants and animals in a coastal marsh and their food web structure.

What we are doing

This research seeks to expand knowledge of the effects of river diversions on natural versus created marshes in Louisiana. Researchers will determine species composition, abundances, and food web structure in natural marshes along varying levels of salinity that result from a river diversion. They will also examine species composition, abundances, and food web structure in created marshes that differ in age influenced by this same river diversion. Finally, the data collected from the marshes will be incorporated into an ecosystem model to predict the impact of salinity changes and habitat restoration efforts on marsh food web structure, function, and resilience.

Expected Outcome

This project will increase understanding of how river diversions impact the marsh food webs and provide the means for predicting how certain types of restoration will impact the species living in a marsh. This project will consider the majority of components in marsh food webs and make it possible for managers to take an end-to-end ecosystem perspective when making management decisions.

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