Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 1242–1254 | Cite as

Response of a subtropical estuarine marsh to local climatic change in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico

  • Margaret G. Forbes
  • Kenneth H. Dunton


We examined the contrasting, effects of floods and droughts produced by large changes in local climatology on vegetation patterns in Nueces marsh, a semi-arid subtropical salt marsh in south Texas from 1995 to 2005. Climate variations during the study included an initial 4-yr period of moderate conditions, followed by a 2-yr interval of drought, and a recent 4-yr wet period that included large-scale floods. Variation in freshwater inflow, rainfall, and potential evapotranspiration were used in conjunction with field measurements of salinity, inorganic nitrogen, and vegetation structure collected at sites located at varying distances from Nueces Bay. Tidal creek salinities varied with Nueces Bay salinity, with strength of effect inversely related to distance from the bay. Mean (±standard deviation) pore water salinities ranged from 59±54‰ at two high, marsh stations farthest from the bay (10.1 km distant) to 30±21‰ in soil at a low marsh site closest to the bay (0.5 km distant). Mean pore water ammonium was also higher at stations most distant from the bay; nitrate + nitrite did not exhibit a high marsh to low marsh gradient. Nueces Bay salinity decreased substantially when the 10-d cumulative mean daily Nueces River flows exceeded 10 m3 s−1. During periods of low and moderate flood frequency (flows mostly below 10 m3 s−1), vegetation assemblages were dominated by stress-tolerant clonal plants. A catastrophic flood, which immersed vegetation for several weeks between July and September 2002, resulted in extensive plant mortality, but within months, unvegetated areas were rapidly colonized by the obligate annualSalicornia bigelovii. With the end of major flooding by late 2004, plant community structure began a return to pre-drought assemblages at high and middle marsh stations by summer 2005. At the low marsh station, new conditions favored clonal dominants (Spartina alterniflora andBorrichia frutescens), with the latter replacingSalicornia virginica as the dominant species. Our results support the theory that the importance of competition and abiotic stress in determining community composition are inversely related.


Salt Marsh Tidal Creek High Marsh Marsh Site Pore Water Salinity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Texas Marine Science InstitutePort Aransas

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