Research Article: Short-term effect of simulated salt marsh restoration by sand-amendment on sediment bacterial communities

Date Published: April 29, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): François Thomas, James T. Morris, Cathleen Wigand, Stefan M. Sievert, Raffaella Casotti.


Coastal climate adaptation strategies are needed to build salt marsh resiliency and maintain critical ecosystem services in response to impacts caused by climate change. Although resident microbial communities perform crucial biogeochemical cycles for salt marsh functioning, their response to restoration practices is still understudied. One promising restoration strategy is the placement of sand or sediment onto the marsh platform to increase marsh resiliency. A previous study examined the above- and below-ground structure, soil carbon dioxide emissions, and pore water constituents in Spartina alterniflora-vegetated natural marsh sediments and sand-amended sediments at varying inundation regimes. Here, we analyzed samples from the same experiment to test the effect of sand-amendments on the microbial communities after 5 months. Along with the previously observed changes in biogeochemistry, sand amendments drastically modified the bacterial communities, decreasing richness and diversity. The dominant sulfur-cycling bacterial community found in natural sediments was replaced by one dominated by iron oxidizers and aerobic heterotrophs, the abundance of which correlated with higher CO2-flux. In particular, the relative abundance of iron-oxidizing Zetaproteobacteria increased in the sand-amended sediments, possibly contributing to acidification by the formation of iron oxyhydroxides. Our data suggest that the bacterial community structure can equilibrate if the inundation regime is maintained within the optimal range for S. alterniflora. While long-term effects of changes in bacterial community on the growth of S. alterniflora are not clear, our results suggest that analyzing the microbial community composition could be a useful tool to monitor climate adaptation and restoration efforts.

Partial Text

Salt marshes are extraordinarily productive ecosystems found in estuaries worldwide. At the interface of ocean and land, they experience shifting salinities and dynamic redox environments coupled to tidal and seasonal cycles. Salt marshes provide a variety of ecosystem services including storm protection and nutrient control. In particular, salt marsh sediments house diverse microbial communities [1,2] and are known as sites of intense cycling of nitrogen [3–8] and sulfur [9–13]. In salt marshes, the degradation of organic matter occurs predominantly through sulfate reduction, producing hydrogen sulfide which in turn fuels sulfur-oxidizing microorganisms [10,11]. The cord grass Spartina alterniflora is well adapted to sulfidic conditions by having its own defense mechanisms [14,15] as well as by promoting the growth of sulfur-oxidizing microorganisms in the rhizosphere [10], making it the dominant plant in areas of the USA Atlantic Coast that are submerged for parts of each tidal cycle [16].

Salt marshes provide essential ecosystem services, yet their existence is threatened by accelerated sea level rise, making it imperative to find ways to build marsh resiliency. One possible mitigation strategy that has gained attraction in the Northeast USA is placement of sediment or sand (including beneficial re-use of dredged material) onto the marsh platform to build elevation, which can reduce flooding duration and optimize marsh plant productivity [40,41]. Organic matter accumulation in the marsh soils, associated with plant productivity, will help the marsh keep pace with sea level rise. However, the effects of this restoration treatment on resident microbial communities are presently not well understood. Here, we report on bacterial community responses to different inundation periods and sand enrichment to coastal marsh soils. This study is part of a larger study that examined the responses of marsh above-and below-ground structure and processes to sand amendments at varying inundations regimes at five elevations [24]. Although we only sampled at the end of the experiment and only the lowest and highest elevations, we believe our results reflect the bacterial community changes that could be expected under similar initial conditions due to manipulation by sand-amendment and by a prolonged inundation regime, as we have assessed the two extreme flooding cases.




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