Potential Applications of the Mutualism between Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and Ribbed Mussel (Geukensia demissa) for Restoration of Urban Wetlands

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Thomas Whaley, Chester B. Zarnoch , Patricia Rafferty, Jolene Willis, J. Stephen Gosnell, Timothy J. Hoellein, Denise A. Bruesewitz , Christopher Girgenti, Mary Alldred

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Efforts to restore degraded ecosystems often focus on the effects of single species on ecosystem processes while neglecting the influence of species interactions. Understanding these interactions can expedite the restoration process and prevent unforeseen negative outcomes. We measure the strength of mutualistic interactions between smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa), two dominant coastal wetland species in the eastern US, to determine their combined impact on sediment stability and nitrogen-removal services. Previous work has shown that the addition of mussels to a recently restored marsh in Jamaica Bay (New York, NY, USA) enhanced rates of nitrogen removal. However, in contrast to experiments performed in natural marshes, we observed no effect on plant growth. Here we consider the possibility that the mussel-cordgrass mutualism is context-specific, responding to local abiotic conditions such as nutrient availability and sediment supply. We plan to compare results of mussel additions between restored sites in Jamaica Bay and Randall’s Island, two sites in NY that have been the subject of recent restoration efforts but that differ in rates of sediment supply. We are also working to analyze georeferenced surveys of invertebrate populations conducted by the National Park Service in Jamaica Bay. We will use these data, in combination with archived aerial imagery, to detect trends in the abundances of S. alterniflora and G. demissa following restoration, relative to a stable extant marsh. We will synthesize the observational and manipulative components of our study to quantify the utility of the cordgrass-mussel mutualism in restoring urban ecosystems.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program