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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  30 Jun 2020

30 Jun 2020

Review status
A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESurf.

Different coastal marsh sites reflect similar topographic conditions for bare patches and vegetation recovery

Chen Wang1,2, Lennert Schepers2, Matthew L. Kirwan3, Enrica Belluco4, Andrea D'Alpaos5, Qiao Wang6,1, Shoujing Yin1, and Stijn Temmerman2 Chen Wang et al.
  • 1Satellite Application Center for Ecology and Environment, Ministry of Ecology and Environment/State Environmental Protection Key Laboratory of Satellite Remote Sensing, Fengde East Road 4, Beijing 100094, China
  • 2Ecosystem Management Research Group, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Wilrijk, Belgium
  • 3Virginia Institute of Marine Science, P.O. Box 1346, 1375 Greate Road, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA
  • 4Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, University of Padova, via Loredan 20, 35131 Padua, Italy
  • 5Department of Geosciences, University of Padua, Via Gradenigo 6, 35131 Padua, Italy
  • 6Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Xinjiekouwai Street 19, Beijing 100875, P. R. China

Abstract. The presence of bare patches within otherwise vegetated coastal marshes is sometimes considered to be a symptom of marsh die-back and the subsequent loss of important ecosystem services. Here we studied the topographical conditions determining the presence and revegetation of bare patches in three marsh sites with contrasting tidal range, sediment supply and plant species: the Scheldt Estuary (the Netherlands), Venice Lagoon (Italy), and Blackwater Marshes (Maryland, USA). We analyzed topographic properties of bare patches, including elevation, size, distance and connectivity to channels based on GIS analyses of aerial and LIDAR imagery. Our results demonstrate that across the different marsh sites, bare patches connected to channels occur most frequently at the lowest elevations and farthest distance from the main channels. Bare patches disconnected from channels occur most frequently at intermediate elevations and distances from channels, and vegetated marshes dominate at highest elevations and shortest distances from channels. Revegetation in bare patches is observed in only one site with the highest tidal range and highest sediment availability, and preferentially occurs from the edges of small unconnected bare patches at intermediate elevations and intermediate distances from channels. Our results are discussed within the alternative stable state theory. We suggest the existence of two stable states, a high-elevated vegetated state close to channels that tends to remain high and vegetated, and a low-elevated state of bare connected patches far from channels that tends to remain bare, with an unstable state at intermediate channel distances where bare patches may form and rapidly become revegetated.

Chen Wang et al.

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Status: final response (author comments only)
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Chen Wang et al.


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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Coastal marshes are valuable natural habitats with normally dense vegetation. The presence of bare patches is a symptom of habitat degradation. We found that the occurrence of bare patches and regrowth of vegetation, is related to spatial variations in soil surface elevation, and to distance and connectivity to tidal creeks. These relations are similar in three marshes at very different geographical locations. Our results may help nature managers to conserve and restore coastal marshes.
Coastal marshes are valuable natural habitats with normally dense vegetation. The presence of...