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Keywords:

  • chlorophyll a;
  • macroalgae;
  • National Wetlands Inventory;
  • salinity;
  • salt marsh;
  • sea-level rise;
  • species richness

Algae have important functional roles in estuarine wetlands. We quantified differences in macroalgal abundance, composition and diversity, and sediment chl a and pheophytin a (pheo a) among three National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) emergent marsh classes in four Oregon estuaries spanning a range of riverine to marine dominance. We also assessed the strength of macroalgal-vascular plant associations and the degree to which environmental variables correlated with algal community metrics in marsh and woody wetlands. The frequency of occurrence of most macroalgal genera, total benthic macroalgal cover, macroalgal diversity, and sediment chl a content were several times higher in low emergent marsh than in high marsh or palustrine tidal marsh. Conversely, pheo a: chl a ratios were highest in high and palustrine marsh. Attached macroalgae (Fucus and Vaucheria) were strongly associated with plants common at lower tidal elevations such as Sarcocornia perennis and Jaumea carnosa; Ulva (an unattached alga) was not strongly associated with any common low marsh plants. In structural equation models, intertidal elevation was the most influential predictor of macroalgal cover and richness and chl a; light availability and soil salinity played secondary roles. Although common taxa such as Ulva spp. occurred across a broad range of salinities, wetlands with oligohaline soils (salinity < 5) had the lowest macroalgal diversity and lower sediment chl a. These types of baseline data on algal distributions are critical for evaluating the structural and functional impacts of future changes to coastal estuaries including sea-level rise (SLR), altered salinity dynamics, and habitat modification.