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FEATURE ARTICLE

Salt Marshes Under Siege

Agricultural practices, land development and overharvesting of the seas explain complex ecological cascades that threaten our shorelines

Robert Jeffries, Mark Bertness, Brian Silliman

Figure 8. Trophic cascade controls marshes . . .Click to Enlarge Image

In North America, salt marshes once lined much of the Atlantic coast. Such a collection of salt-tolerant plants protects the shoreline from storms and filters pollutants from water flowing to the sea. Unfortunately, human activities, such as farming for desirable grasses and development, have destroyed many of the marshes—up to 70 percent of them along some stretches of coastline. Today, imbalances in nature—a foreign strain of reed, enormous flocks of geese and over harvesting of blue crabs—threaten salt marshes from Georgia to the Hudson Bay. Here, Bertness and his colleagues detail salt-marsh research and predict the loss of most Atlantic coast salt marshes, unless society fights back, and soon.


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