Resistance to Hurricane Effects Varies Among Wetland Vegetation Types in the Marsh-Mangrove Ecotone
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2019, Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation. The capacity of coastal wetlands to stabilize shorelines and reduce erosion is a critical ecosystem service, and it is uncertain how changes in dominant vegetation may affect coastal protection. As part of a long-term study (2012present) comparing ecosystem functions of marsh and black mangrove vegetation, we have experimentally maintained marsh and black mangrove patches (3m 3m) along a plot-level (24m 42m) gradient of marsh and mangrove cover in coastal wetlands near Port Aransas, TX. In August 2017, this experiment was directly in the path of Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 storm. This extreme disturbance event provided an opportunity to quantify differences in resistance between mangrove and marsh vegetation and to assess which vegetation type provided better shoreline protection against storm-driven erosion. We compared changes in plant cover, shoreline erosion, and accreted soil depth to values measured prior to storm landfall. Relative mangrove cover decreased 2540% after the storm, regardless of initial cover, largely due to damage on taller mangroves (> 2.5m height) that were not fully inundated by storm surge and were therefore exposed to strong winds. Evidence of regrowth on damaged mangrove brancheswas apparent within 2months of landfall. Hurricane-induced decreases in mangrove cover were partially ameliorated by the presence of neighboring mangroves, particularly closer to the shoreline. Marsh plants were generally resistant to hurricane effects. Shoreline erosion exceeded 5m where mangroves were absent (100% marsh cover) but was relatively modest (< 0.5m) in plots with mangroves present (11100% mangrove cover). Storm-driven accreted soil depth was variable but more than 2 higher in marsh patches than in mangrove patches. In general, mangroves provided shoreline protection from erosion but were also more damaged by wind and surge, which may reduce their shoreline protection capacity over longer time scales.