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Earth Surface Dynamics



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The presence of bare patches within otherwise vegetated coastal marshes is sometimes considered to be a symptom of marsh dieback and the subsequent loss of important ecosystem services. Here we studied the topographical conditions determining the presence and revegetation of bare patches in three marsh sites with contrasting tidal range, sediment supply, and plant species: the Scheldt estuary (the Netherlands), Venice lagoon (Italy), and Blackwater marshes (Maryland, USA). Based on GIS (geographic information system) analyses of aerial photos and lidar imagery of high resolution (≤2×2 m pixels), we analyzed the topographic conditions under which bare patches occur, including their surface elevation, size, distance from channels, and whether they are connected or not to channels. Our results demonstrate that, for the different marsh sites, bare patches can be connected or unconnected to the channel network and that there is a positive relationship between the width of the connecting channels and the size of the bare patches, in each of the three marsh sites. Further, pixels located in bare patches connected to channels occur most frequently at the lowest elevations and farthest distance from the channels. Pixels in bare patches disconnected from channels occur most frequently at intermediate elevations and distances from channels, and vegetated marshes dominate at highest elevations and shortest distances from channels. In line with previous studies, revegetation in bare patches is observed in only one site with the highest tidal range and highest sediment availability, and it preferentially occurs from the edges of small unconnected bare patches at intermediate elevations and intermediate distances from channels. Although our study is only for three different marsh sites with large variations in local conditions, such as tidal range, sediment availability, and plant species, it suggests that similar topographic conditions determine the occurrence of bare patches. Such insights may inform decision makers on coastal marsh management on where to focus monitoring of early signatures of marsh degradation.


doi: 10.5194/esurf-9-71-2021

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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