Constraining natural and anthropogenic disturbances in the delivery of coastal ecosystem services
Coastal ecosystems provide key services that benefit human wellbeing yet are undergoing rapid degradation due to natural and anthropogenic pressures. This thesis seeks to understand how disturbances impact salt marsh and estuarine ecosystem functioning in order to refine their role in coastal ecosystem service delivery and predict future resilience. Salt marsh survival relative to sealevel rise increasingly relies on the accumulation and preservation of soil organic carbon (SOC). Firstly, I
... acterized SOC development and turnover in a New England salt marsh and found that salt marsh soils typically store marsh grass-derived compounds that are reworked over centuries-to-millennia. Next, I assessed how two common marsh disturbances – natural ponding and anthropogenic mosquito ditching – affect salt marsh carbon cycling and storage. Salt marsh ponds deepen through soil erosion and decomposition of long-buried marsh peat. Further, the SOC lost during pond development is not fully recouped once drained ponds are revegetated and virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding marsh. Mosquito ditches, which were installed in ~ 90% of New England salt marshes during the Great Depression, did not significantly alter marsh carbon storage. In Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, a US National Estuary, we tested relationships among measures of estuarine water quality, recreational activity, and local socioeconomic conditions to understand how the benefits of cultural ecosystem services are affected by shifts in water quality associated with global change and anthropogenic activity. Over a 24-year period, water quality degradation coinciding with increases in Chlorophyll a is associated with declines in fishery abundance and cultural ecosystem service values ($0.08 – 0.67 million USD). In combination, incorporation of both anthropogenic and natural disturbances to coastal ecosystem functioning and service delivery can produce improved estimates of ecosystem service valuation for effective resource decision-making under future climate scenarios.