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Keywords:

  • anoxia;
  • ethanol;
  • flooding;
  • methylmercury;
  • rhizosphere;
  • sulfide

Impounded tidal conditions often compromise coastal marsh restoration goals, through vegetation loss and other biogeochemical feedbacks. To determine if episodic marsh impoundments could be partially responsible for the observed cordgrass (Spartina foliosa) dieback at Crissy Field, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, we examined sulfur chemistry and plant stress along transects between and during tidal inlet closure events from 2007 to 2008. During closures, porewater sulfide (PW S2−) concentrations did not respond consistently among sites, nor did they increase to levels likely to cause stress damage to cordgrass (>1 mM). However, sediment solid-phase total reduced sulfur (TRS) concentrations did respond strongly to closures both at surface and subsurface depth intervals, and they were greatest in sites with high organic matter content (>5%). The temporal patterns of both PW S2− and TRS suggest that while sulfate reduction may be enhanced during closure events, the free sulfide produced is largely precipitated into solid-phase minerals. Even without millimolar levels of PW S2−, plant stress was observed during closures, as indicated by a buildup of ethanol in root tissues, a by-product of fermentative respiration brought on by limited oxygen availability. Further, enhanced sulfate reduction may be related to the higher relative concentrations of methylmercury in low intertidal surface sediments observed during closure events. These data suggest that, in support of vegetated tidal marsh restoration goals, tidal flows should be maintained actively to reduce the impact of impoundment events on marsh biogeochemistry and productivity.