Livestock grazing reduces sediment deposition and accretion rates on a highly anthropogenically altered marsh island in the Wadden Sea

Dennis Schulze, Kai Jensen, Stefanie Nolte

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Coastal salt marshes and their provided ecosystem services are threatened by rising sea levels all over the world. In the Northern Wadden Sea region, a sea-level rise of 4 mm y−1 was recorded for recent years. Identifying and understanding factors that affect sediment deposition and determine vertical accretion of salt marshes is crucial for the management of these ecosystems. Even though major processes contributing to sedimentation and accretion have already been identified, the influence of reduced canopy heights due to livestock grazing is still debated. On a highly anthropogenically altered marsh island in the Wadden Sea, sediment deposition, accretion and suspended sediment concentration was analyzed on grazed and adjacent ungrazed plots both at the marsh edge and at the marsh interior. Due to a low seawall (a so-called ‘summer dike’), flooding frequency on the island is reduced and flooding mainly takes place during storm surges. After five flooding events within a year, mean sediment deposition and accretion were found to be up to seven times higher on ungrazed plots compared to grazed plots, but only at the marsh edges. This result was not explained by the overmarsh suspended sediment concentration (SSC), which was found to be twice as high on grazed plots compared to ungrazed plots. It is concluded that grazing has a negative effect on sediment deposition and accretion on Wadden Sea marsh islands and areas with similar conditions (e.g. presence of a summer dike) by reducing the sediment trapping capacity of those marshes. Overall, vertical marsh accretion ranged from 0.11 ± 0.09 mm y−1 on a grazed plot at the marsh edge to 1.12 ± 0.71 mm y−1 on an ungrazed plot at the marsh edge. By increasing the discrepancy between accretion and sea-level rise, livestock grazing can lead to higher inundation levels and in turn to increased hydrodynamic forces acting on these anthropogenically altered marshes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107191
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Early online date21 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2021

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