Manipulating saltmarsh microtopography modulates the effects of elevation on sediment redox potential and halophyte distribution

Hannah L. Mossman, Alastair Grant, Anthony J. Davy

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1. Halophyte distributions on saltmarshes are strongly related to elevation in the tidal frame. However, collinearity between elevation, the consequent inundation regime, and sediment waterlogging/redox potential obscures the proximate causes of distribution patterns. We sought to distinguish the effects of elevation per se from those of waterlogging by manipulating microtopography.
2. We experimentally manipulated elevation by ±15 cm at locations that spanned the elevation ranges of three saltmarshes recently reactivated by managed coastal realignment. Experimental plots were initially cleared of any vegetation. Elevation and sediment redox potential were determined for each plot. We planted five perennial species (Armeria maritima, Atriplex portulacoides, Limonium vulgare, Plantago maritima and Triglochin maritima) in half of the plots, recording survival over four years, and monitored natural colonisation of the other plots.
3. Overall, redox potential increased with elevation. Sediments were more oxidising in raised plots and more reducing in lowered plots. Redox reductions in lowered plots were in line with those that would be predicted from the overall redox/elevation relationship, but increases in raised plots were greater than predicted from elevation alone.
4. Plant colonisation and survival was poorer in lowered plots and, for most species, improved in raised plots. This can, in part, be attributed to the concomitant alterations in redox potential and elevation in the tidal frame, but microtopographic manipulation also had substantial independent effects on plant performance, including on the survival of all planted species and the colonisation of Puccinellia maritima, Salicornia europaea agg. and Tripolium pannonicum.
5. Synthesis: Microtopography can have effects on sediment chemistry and plant performance similar in magnitude to those of overall tidal elevation. Understanding how its effects modulate the relationship between tidal elevation, redox and other environmental conditions helps clarify the abiotic factors that fundamentally determine halophyte colonisation and survival. These results support the use of topographic manipulation to enhance the diversity of created saltmarshes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-106
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date17 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • coastal marsh
  • collinear variation
  • colonization
  • hierarchical partitioning
  • restoration
  • tidal inundation
  • topography
  • waterlogging

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