Behind the Scenes of Science: Literature Review

stack of books image-AWsUOne 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

A high salt marsh at Goodwin islands, part of the CBNERR network

A high salt marsh at Goodwin Islands, part of the CBNERR network in Virginia.

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!

A diagra of a salt arsh

A diagram of the zonation of a tidal wetland. credit

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!

A diagram of a todal freshwater masrh. credit

A diagram of a tidal freshwater marsh. credit

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!)

Salt Marsh

Smooth_Cordgrass_page_image

Spartina alterniflora, also called smooth cordgrass, is a perennial halophyte grass, meaning that it lives in/near salt water and returns year after year (Mendelssohn and Morris, 2002). It is the often the dominant plant species in low salt marshes along the East Coast of the United States. This grass typically flowers in the summer and by autumn, those flowers turn to seeds that many birds enjoy! (credit: Sandy Richard)

Spartina patens, also called saltmeadow hay or saltmeadow cordgrass, is a perennial grass found in the high salt marsh. This wiry grass is commonly described as having a “cowlick” since it is easily blown by the wind.

Spartina patens, also called saltmeadow hay or saltmeadow cordgrass, is a perennial grass found in the high salt marsh. This wiry grass is commonly described as having a “cowlick” since it is easily blown by the wind. credit: Ben Kimball

Tidal Freshwater Marsh

Wild Rice (Zizania aquatic) is an edible plant found in tidal and non-tidal fresh marshes in the Chesapeake Bay region. This plant is a really important food source to birds that live in the marsh, or just are passing through as part of the Atlantic Flyway.

Wild Rice (Zizania aquatic) is an edible plant found in tidal and non-tidal fresh marshes in the Chesapeake Bay region. This plant is a really important food source to birds that live in the marsh, or just are passing through as part of the Atlantic Flyway. credit: Virginia Native Plant Society Pocahontas Chapter

Arrow arum (Peltandra virginica) is a perennial tidal freshwater marsh plant that gets its name from its broad, arrow-like shaped leaves. This edible plant is also an important shelter and food source for many birds and mammals, such as the muskrat!

Arrow arum (Peltandra virginica) is a perennial tidal freshwater marsh plant that gets its name from its broad, arrow-like shaped leaves. This edible plant is also an important shelter and food source for many birds and mammals, such as the muskrat! credit: Jane Thomas/IAN Image Library

Cattails are common in freshwater and brackish marshes throughout Chesapeake Bay. The two main types are Typha latifolia (broad leaved) and Typha angustifolia (narrow leaved). That iconic brown “tail” is actually a flower spike! Because they grow and spread so well, some consider cattails to be like an invasive species.

Cattails are common in freshwater and brackish marshes throughout Chesapeake Bay. The two main types are Typha latifolia (broad leaved) and Typha angustifolia (narrow leaved). That iconic brown “tail” is actually a flower spike! Because they grow and spread so well, some consider cattails to be like an invasive species. credit: Jeffrey Kontur

Invasive Plants

Phragmites australis, typically called Phrag, is an invasive (non-native) perennial plant. This tall and feathery plant reproduces from both below ground rhizomes and above ground seeds which form in August on the top of its stem. These seeds are not particularly often eaten by the native birds and organisms. This plant grows so well that it has spread to many areas along the United States Eastern coast.

Phragmites australis, typically called Phrag, is an invasive (non-native) perennial plant. This tall and feathery plant reproduces from both below ground rhizomes and above ground seeds which form in August on the top of its stem. These seeds are not often eaten by the native birds and organisms. This plant grows so well that it has spread to many areas along the United States Eastern coast. credit: Jason Baker

(Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive perennial plant that grows very quickly and is not eaten by many native organisms. This plant is an example of a beautiful flower stock that is actually quite harmful to local ecosystems. Many think that purple loosestrife was brought to the Chesapeake from ballast waters of European ships.

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive perennial plant that grows very quickly and is not eaten by many native organisms. This plant is an example of a beautiful flower stock that is actually quite harmful to local ecosystems. Many think that purple loosestrife was brought to the Chesapeake from ballast waters of European ships. credit: Jenn Forman Orth/Flickr

Last Thoughts

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A beautiful drawing of a marsh ecosystem. credit

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)

Kari Pohl

About Kari Pohl

I am a post-doctoral researcher at NOAA and the University of Maryland (Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory). My work investigates how climate variability and extremes affect the diverse ecosystems in Chesapeake Bay. I received a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island (2014) and received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Chemistry from Roger Williams University (2009). When I am not busy being a scientist, my hobbies include running, watching (and often yelling at) the Boston Bruins, and taking photos of my cat.
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4 Responses to Behind the Scenes of Science: Literature Review

  1. Nicole Carlozo says:

    Hi Kari, great overview! I am currently working on a project to identify the value of marshes in protecting coastal communities from flooding, storm surge, erosion, etc. If you are aware of any researchers working on these issues, please let me know. Thanks!

    • Kari Pohl Kari Pohl says:

      Hi Nicole,

      We are looking right now at return period changes in precipitation, streamflow, and tidal events (historical analysis), of which I hope to relate to marsh flooding. My analysis has just started, but I would be happy to chat with you to see if this could help your current project!

      We are also looking at how future SLR changes will affect marsh area and type (SLAMM Model), mostly in reference to how this could impact carbon sequestration and “livable space” for a few organisms that use that marshes as a nursery.

      Cheers,
      Kari

  2. Jenny Allen says:

    YAY Marshes! I suppose I am a bit bias… 🙂

    If you need any marsh related references, let me know! Also, if you are interested, there has been an ongoing wild rice restoration project on the Patuxent River (Jug Bay area) led by Greg Kearns at the MNCPPC- Patuxent River Park.

    http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/ref/collection/video/id/2018
    http://www.dnr.state.md.us/waters/CBNERR/pdfs/Publications/JB/Reports/TowsonUniversityCenterforGIS_2009.pdf

    • Kari Pohl Kari Pohl says:

      Jenny, Thank you so much! I just found myself reading that entire Patuxent report you linked; its so fascinating and exciting to see an ongoing and successful restoration!

      I will definitely be in touch with you for literature/references 🙂 Thank you for the help and suggestions to do a marsh project! I hope we’ll be able to all create something wonderful for the coastal communities! I’m becoming obsessed with this subject!

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