Does livestock grazing affect sediment deposition and accretion rates in salt marshes?

Stefanie Nolte (Lead Author), Frauke Müller (Lead Author), Mark Schuerch, Antonia Wanner, Peter Esselink, Jan P. Bakker, Kai Jensen

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45 Citations (Scopus)


Accretion rates, defined as the vertical growth of salt marshes measured in mm per year, may be influenced by grazing livestock in two ways: directly, by increasing soil compaction through trampling, and indirectly, by reducing aboveground biomass and thus decreasing sediment deposition rates measured in g/m² per year. Although accretion rates and the resulting surface elevation change largely determine the resilience of salt marshes to sea-level rise (SLR), the effect of livestock grazing on accretion rates has been little studied. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate the effect of livestock grazing on salt-marsh accretion rates. We hypothesise that accretion will be lower in grazed compared to ungrazed salt marshes. In four study sites along the mainland coast of the Wadden Sea (in the south-eastern North Sea), accretion rates, sediment deposition rates, and soil compaction of grazed and ungrazed marshes were analysed using the 137Cs radionuclide dating method. Accretion rates were on average 11.6 mm yr−1 during recent decades and thus higher than current and projected rates of SLR. Neither accretion nor sediment deposition rates were significantly different between grazing treatments. Meanwhile, soil compaction was clearly affected by grazing with significantly higher dry bulk density on grazed compared to ungrazed parts. Based on these results, we conclude that other factors influence whether grazing has an effect on accretion and sediment deposition rates and that the effect of grazing on marsh growth does not follow a direct causal chain. It may have a great importance when interacting with other biotic and abiotic processes on the marsh.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-305
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Early online date1 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes

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