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Faculty Publication: Professor and Chair of Biology Thomas Mozdzer

April 12, 2024

Promoting Success in Thin Layer Sediment Placement: Effects of Sediment Grain Size and Amendments on Salt Marsh Plant Growth and Greenhouse Gas Exchange

Authors: Wilburn, Brittany P.; Raper, Kirk; Raposa, Kenneth B.; Gray, Andrew B.; Mozdzer, Thomas J.; Watson, Elizabeth B.

Source: Restoration Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/rec.14141, March 2024

Type of Publication: Article

Abstract: Thin layer sediment placement (TLP) is used to build elevation in marshes, counteracting effects of subsidence and sea level rise. However, TLP success may vary due to plant stress associated with reductions in nutrient availability and hydrologic flushing or through the creation of acid sulfate soils. This study examined the influence of sediment grain size and soil amendments on plant growth, soil and porewater characteristics, and greenhouse gas exchange for three key U.S. salt marsh plants: Spartina alterniflora (synonym Sporobolus alterniflorus), Spartina patens (synonym Sporobolus pumilus), and Salicornia pacifica. We found that bioavailable nitrogen concentrations (measured as extractable NH4+-N) and porewater pH and salinity were inversely related to grain size, while soil redox was more reducing in finer sediments. This suggests that utilizing finer sediments in TLP projects will result in a more reduced environment with higher nutrient availability, while larger grain sized sediments will be better flushed and oxygenated. We further found that grain size had a significant effect on vegetation biomass allocation and rates of gas exchange, although these effects were species-specific. We found that soil amendments (biochar and compost) did not subsidize plant growth but were associated with increases in soil respiration and methane emissions. Biochar amendments were additionally ineffective in ameliorating acid sulfate conditions. This study uncovers complex interactions between sediment type and vegetation, emphasizing the limitations of soil amendments. The findings aid restoration project managers in making informed decisions regarding sediment type, target vegetation, and soil amendments for successful TLP projects.