• net annual primary production;
  • sea level rise;
  • sediment-slurry addition;
  • severe drought;
  • sudden marsh die-back

Impacts of global climate change, such as sea level rise and severe drought, have altered the hydrology of coastal salt marshes resulting in submergence and subsequent degradation of ecosystem function. A potential method of rehabilitating these systems is the addition of sediment-slurries to increase marsh surface elevation, thus ameliorating effects of excessive inundation. Although this technique is growing in popularity, the restoration of ecological function after sediment addition has received little attention. To determine if sediment subsidized salt marshes are functionally equivalent to natural marshes, we examined above- and belowground primary production in replicated restored marshes receiving four levels of sediment addition (29–42 cm North American Vertical Datum of 1988 [NAVD 88]) and in degraded and natural ambient marshes (4–22 cm NAVD 88). Moderate intensities of sediment-slurry addition, resulting in elevations at the mid to high intertidal zone (29–36 cm NAVD 88), restored ecological function to degraded salt marshes. Sediment additions significantly decreased flood duration and frequency and increased bulk density, resulting in greater soil drainage and redox potential and significantly lower phytotoxic sulfide concentrations. However, ecological function in the restored salt marsh showed a sediment addition threshold that was characterized by a decline in primary productivity in areas of excessive sediment addition and high elevation (>36 cm NAVD 88). Hence, the addition of intermediate levels of sediment to submerging salt marshes increased marsh surface elevation, ameliorated impacts of prolonged inundation, and increased primary productivity. However, too much sediment resulted in diminished ecological function that was equivalent to the submerged or degraded system.