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Coastal and Estuarine Studies




Geologic history and the ergodic principle: Foundations for long-term ecological research in salt marshes

Leonard Robert Gardner

Ecological research in salt marshes is usually conducted on decadal time scales or less. Truly long-term ecological research in salt marshes requires a millennial-scale, geological perspective. If the Holocene geomorphic evolution of a salt-marsh basin can be inferred from geological data, then the ergodic principle of space as a surrogate for time can be used to design studies aimed at ascertaining the detailed evolution of ecosystem structure and function. Along coasts subject to gradual sea-level rise, ecological succession generally involves replacement of terrestrial ecosystems by marine ecosystems. Detailed understanding of such replacement requires high resolution stratigraphy and dating combined with intensive measurements of present day ecosystem structure and function. On the basis of such data currently available for the North Inlet (SC) marsh basin, an integrated program for ascertaining the long-term dynamics of ecosystem succession is proposed which might also be used in other basins with a similar geomorphic history. The program envisions a series of transects across finger marsh basins that represent successive stages in marsh evolution. Measurements of tidally driven material fluxes through the transects may reveal how nutrient cycling and sedimentation vary with marsh age. Measurements of ecosystem structure and function along such transects from creek bank to adjacent forest should reveal how these parameters vary during the conversion of forest into marsh. Opportunities also exist for integrating the transect-normal flux measurements with the transect-parallel structure and function measurements.

Citation: Gardner, L. R. (2004), Geologic history and the ergodic principle: Foundations for long-term ecological research in salt marshes, in The Ecogeomorphology of Tidal Marshes, Coastal Estuarine Stud., vol. 59, edited by S. Fagherazzi, M. Marani, and L. K. Blum, pp. 189–201, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/CE059p0189.


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