How does vegetation affect sedimentation on tidal marshes? Investigating particle capture and hydrodynamic controls on biologically mediated sedimentation



[1] Plants are known to enhance sedimentation on intertidal marshes. It is unclear, however, if the dominant mechanism of enhanced sedimentation is direct organic sedimentation, particle capture by plant stems, or enhanced settling due to a reduction in turbulent kinetic energy within flows through the plant canopy. Here we combine several previously reported laboratory studies with an 18 year record of salt marsh macrophyte characteristics to quantify these mechanisms. In dense stands of Spartina alterniflora (with projected plant areas per unit volume of >10 m−1) and rapid flows (>0.4 m s−1), we find that the fraction of sedimentation from particle capture can instantaneously exceed 70%. In most marshes dominated by Spartina alterniflora, however, we find particle settling, rather than capture, will account for the majority of inorganic sedimentation. We examine a previously reported 2 mm yr−1 increase in accretion rate following a fertilization experiment in South Carolina. Prior studies at the site have ruled out organic sedimentation as the cause of this increased accretion. We apply our newly developed models of particle capture and effective settling velocity to the fertilized and control sites and find that virtually all (>99%) of the increase in accretion rates can be attributed to enhanced settling brought about by reduced turbulent kinetic energy in the fertilized canopy. Our newly developed models of biologically mediated sedimentation are broadly applicable and can be applied to marshes where data relating biomass to stem diameter and projected plant area are available.