Soils-based rapid assessment for quantifying changes in salt marsh condition as a result of hydrologic alteration

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Wetland condition can be severely altered as a result of a change in hydrology. In this study, we examined several soil-based methods to quantify and assess changes in salt marsh condition as a result of tidal restriction. Soil properties were compared between two tidally restricted and two (paired) unrestricted salt marshes. Organic horizon morphology provided a qualitative metric of marsh peat decomposition. Quantitative measures of the degree of decomposition included stable plant fragment content and bearing capacity. Soil pH provided simple metrics of changes in soil chemistry. Bulk density was measured to estimate marsh peat collapse and soil organic matter content provided a measure of carbon dynamics. Neither marsh showed significant differences in soil organic matter or bulk density relative to their paired reference marsh. In contrast, soil pH, stable plant fragment content, and bearing capacity were significantly different between restricted and reference marshes. With the exception of incubation pH, these soil properties can be simply and rapidly measured in the field to quantify physical, chemical, and biological changes in the wetland condition of salt marshes as a result of tidal restriction. Further studies should be conducted to develop a rapid protocol for measuring incubation pH in the field. © Society of Wetland Scientists 2011.

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