Soil Structure and Its Relationship to Shallow Soil Subsidence in Coastal Wetlands

  • Yanmei XiongEmail author
  • Anne Ola
  • Sang Minh Phan
  • Jingtao Wu
  • Catherine E. Lovelock


Accelerating sea-level rise poses a threat to mangroves and salt marshes. Sediment accretion on the soil surface and belowground root production is proposed to increase soil elevation enabling these intertidal habitats to maintain their position relative to mean sea level. However, shallow soil subsidence is frequently observed, which may cancel out or even outweigh the positive effects of surface accretion and root production on soil elevation gains. The processes that lead to shallow soil subsidence have not often been investigated. Here, we used computed tomography (CT) imaging to determine the volume of coarse pores in the top 20 cm of 30-cm-deep soil cores collected from mangroves and salt marshes within Moreton Bay, eastern Australia. The four field sites have long-term observations of variation in soil surface elevation gain, surface accretion rate, and shallow subsidence rate using the rod surface elevation table-marker horizon (RSET-MH) method. Over our sites, we found that the rates of shallow soil subsidence were positively related to the volume of soil coarse pores and soil clay and silt content rather than to the volume of fine pores or total porosity or other soil properties. In turn, the volume of soil coarse pores was positively related to the volume of animal burrows and root mass. Fine-pore volume and total porosity of soils were negatively associated with soil bulk density, which was in turn negatively related to soil organic matter content. Our results indicate influences of differently sized soil pores in shallow soil subsidence and suggest that animal burrowing may play a role in shallow soil subsidence.


Mangrove Surface elevation table Soil compaction Bioturbation Burrow Soil pore 



We thank Dr. K-le Gomez-Cabrera for assistance in the lab.

Funding Information

The study was supported by Australian Research Council award DP150104437 and National Natural Science Foundation of China (41676080 and 41776103). Yanmei Xiong was supported by the China Scholarship Council ((2017)3059) to visit The University of Queensland.

Supplementary material

12237_2019_659_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Institute of Tropical ForestryChinese Academy of ForestryGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  3. 3.School of Agriculture and Food SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

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