One of the most common practices in science, if not THE most common practice, is one that often gets little recognition. All scientists, from a grade school student in science class to a graduate student working on their thesis to the post-doctoral researcher on this project (me), use and depend on this one procedure.
What common practice am I talking about? The literature review.
Before and during all research, scientists often dedicate numerous hours (days and weeks) reading the previous research done on their topic of interest. Whether to learn some background information, read what others have already done, or maybe to learn common approaches to set-up an experiment or model…..a comprehensive literature review is vital in all science research.
Adventures in Literature
I have been spending this week diving into the marsh literature for this project. This includes reading up on physiological thresholds of organisms which make the marsh their home, the types of macrophytes (plants you can see without a microscope) which are native and invasive to Chesapeake marshes, problems that the marsh system is facing, and…especially important, all the background information needed to assess important ecosystem services that marshes provide.
So, I thought would highlight the Chesapeake Bay marsh system! This post is meant to give you the reader some very basic information on a few plants that live in the Chesapeake Bay marsh system.
What is a Marsh?
A marsh is a type of wetland which exists in the transitional zone between water and land. Marsh is an umbrella term for many different types of marsh wetlands; a marsh can be tidal or non-tidal, salt or fresh, a high or low marsh, coastal or inland, etc. In Chesapeake Bay, and for this project, we are focused on assessing salt marshes and tidal fresh marshes, both of which are coastal and tidal!
Salt Marshes are those found at the shores of Chesapeake Bay, meaning that they undergo regulate tidal flooding by the salty estuarine waters of the Chesapeake. Salt Marshes are generally dominated by a few plant species which exist as zones within the tidal range (see diagram). The low marsh, which is between the estuarine waters and mean high water line, is usually dominated by the tall smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora. These are special plants since they can withstand being constantly inundated (flood) by salty water, making them a halophyte, meaning they can grow is salt water!
Tidal Freshwater Marshes are typically more diverse in plant life since these marshes are only rarely flooded with salty water, thus are fresh water and often found on the banks of tributaries which feed into Chesapeake Bay. Occasionally, a really high tide or storm surge may push some salty water there way…but this type of event happens is not too common and most plants are intolerant to salt.
A Few Common Plants in Chesapeake Bay Marshes
If you have ever been to a non-beach seashore in the Chesapeake, you have likely seen one of these plants. (I drive by a few every day to my office!) Marsh plants are both a habitat and food source for many critters in this region!
Here are a few of my notable favorites (confession: I have a botany obsession!)
Tidal Freshwater Marsh
Okay, so this post was different compared to our archives. However, I thought it was important to highlight the importance of literature review. While I showed some fun facts on common marsh plants, my literature research has been even more extensive and will shape the way for our future analysis on marsh ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and nursery habitat.
Stay tuned for next week!
Some suggested reading
Bertness, Mark D. (1991) “Zonation of Spartina patterns and Spartina alterniflora in a New England Salt Marsh.” Ecology, 72(1), pp. 138-148
Mendelssohn, Irving A., and James T. Morris. “Eco-physiological controls on the productivity of Spartina alterniflora Loisel.” Concepts and controversies in tidal marsh ecology (2002): 59-80.
The Field Guide to Wildlife Habitats of the Eastern United States by Janine M. Benyus (1989)
Redfield, Alfred C. “Development of a New England salt marsh.” Ecological Monographs (1972): 201-237.
Chesapeake Bay Program (http://www.chesapeakebay.net/fieldguide/categories/category/plants_trees)