Salt-Marsh Landscapes and the Signatures of Biogeomorphic Feedbacks

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 2:25 PM
Andrea D'Alpaos1 and Marco Marani1,2, (1)University of Padova, Padova, Italy, (2)Duke University, Durham, NC, United States
Salt marshes are coastal ecosystems which play a large role in the bio-geomorphological evolution of intertidal areas. The dense stands of halophytic plants which populate salt-marsh systems largely contribute to govern their dynamics, influencing marsh hydrodynamics and sediment transport through enhanced flow resistance and settling, and direct particle capture by plant stems. In addition, plants are known to increase vertical accretion through direct organic accretion. Looking across the salt-marsh landscape can one see the signatures of feedbacks between landscape and biota? Field evidence and the results of biomorphodynamic models indeed show that the interplay between physical and biological processes generates some striking biological and morphological patterns at different scales. One such pattern, vegetation zonation, consists in a mosaic of vegetation patches, of approximately uniform composition, displaying sharp transitions in the presence of extremely small topographic gradients. Here we extend the model proposed by Marani et al. (2013) to a two-dimensional framework, furthermore including the effect of direct capture of sediment particles by plant stems. This allows us to account for the effect of the drainage density of tidal networks on the observed biogeomorphic patterns and to model the coupled evolution of marsh platforms and channel networks cutting through them. A number of different scenarios have been modelled to analyze the changes induced in bio-geomorphic patterns by plants with different characteristics, within marshes characterized by different drainage densities, or subjected to changing environmental forcing such as rates of relative sea level rise and sediment supply. Model results emphasize that zonation patterns are a signature of bio-geomorphic feedbacks with vegetation acting as a landscape constructor which feeds back on, directly alters, and contributes to shape tidal environments. In addition, model results show that biogeomorphic feedbacks critically affect the response and the resilience of salt-marsh landscapes to changes in the environmental forcing.