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Salt Marshes

Salt Marshes: A Natural and Unnatural History

Judith S. Weis
Carol A. Butler
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 347
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  • Book Info
    Salt Marshes
    Book Description:

    Tall green grass. Subtle melodies of songbirds. Sharp whines of muskrats. Rustles of water running through the grasses. And at low tide, a pungent reminder of the treasures hidden beneath the surface.All are vital signs of the great salt marshes' natural resources.

    Now championed as critical habitats for plants, animals, and people because of the environmental service and protection they provide, these ecological wonders were once considered unproductive wastelands, home solely to mosquitoes and toxic waste, and mistreated for centuries by the human population. Exploring the fascinating biodiversity of these boggy wetlands, Salt Marshes offers readers a wealth of essential information about a variety of plants, fish, and animals, the importance of these habitats, consequences of human neglect and thoughtless development, and insight into how these wetlands recover.

    Judith S. Weis and Carol A. Butler shed ample light on the human impact, including chapters on physical and biological alterations, pollution, and remediation and recovery programs. In addition to a national and global perspective, the authors place special emphasis on coastal wetlands in the Atlantic and Gulf regions, as well as the San Francisco Bay Area, calling attention to their historical and economic legacies.

    Written in clear, easy-to-read language, Salt Marshes proves that the battles for preservation and conservation must continue, because threats to salt marshes ebb and flow like the water that runs through them.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4851-7
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    Salt marshes have been among my favorite places for many years, both for the experiences of tranquility and peace they provide and as places to study. In addition to being fascinating biologically (as we hope to convey in this book), they are easy to get to and don’t require long trips on ships to reach, like habitats other marine biologists study. They are great places to take students, provided you go during the right part of the tidal cycle. If you go at high tide, you probably won’t see much!

    Because salt marshes used to be viewed as wastelands, they...

  6. I. Natural History

    • 1 Salt-Marsh Basics
      (pp. 3-13)

      What is it about marshland that evokes sensations of muck, salt, and sweet decaying matter? In our imaginations the salt marsh stands as a boundary between solid ground and the watery world, a place where mollusks, fishes, and grasses meet. It is a place of mosquitoes, herons, and hermit crabs—neither fully land nor fully water. A biologist might describe salt marshes as coastal wetlands that are transitional zones between the aquatic and terrestrial worlds. Some of the plants and animals living in these areas have origins as land species, for example, grasses, insects, birds, and mammals. Others, such as...

    • 2 Primary Producers: The Plants
      (pp. 14-34)

      Almost all life on earth ultimately depends on plants. The termfood webdescribes the feeding relationships among species in an ecosystem, and plants are at the base of the food web because they are the only organisms that create food using the energy from the sun. Usingphotosynthesis(from the Latinphoto, meaning “light,” andsynthesis, meaning “to put together”), plants convert energy from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into glucose and other nutrients.

      Next in the web are herbivores, which are animals that obtain their nutrition and energy by eating the plants. Carnivores eat other animals, typically those...

    • 3 Animals of the Salt Marsh: Consumers
      (pp. 35-88)

      Animals of the salt marsh, like the plants, must be able to deal with periodic immersion in water and with major swings in salinity and temperature. Animals of the salt marsh include those that are basically aquatic and have adapted to periodic drying out and ones that are basically terrestrial and have adapted to periodic wetting. Aquatic animals tend to be found mostly in low marsh areas that are seldom exposed to the air, and terrestrial ones are found in higher areas that are seldom exposed to the water. Some animals burrow into the mud to escape drying out, while...

  7. II. Human Alterations to Salt Marshes

    • 4 Physical Alterations
      (pp. 91-116)

      In past centuries, marshes were generally considered useless land which needed to be eliminated or transformed to become useful to people, as the above quote indicates. The term that has been used is “reclamation,” which suggests taking something back, yet what people were actually doing was just “claiming” the wetlands for their own purposes. Wetlands have been recklessly filled to expand land for agricultural use or urban development throughout most of this country’s history. This reflects the prevailing value on human dominion over nature; taming the land for human purposes was considered righteous behavior until recently.

      In 1997, the U.S....

    • 5 Pollution
      (pp. 117-149)

      Marine pollution is most severe in estuaries, marshes, and tidal creeks because they are closest to the land, and the land is the major source of pollution. Discharge pipes from factories or sewage plants, called “point sources” in this context, can release pollutants directly into the water. Point sources are easy to identify, and regulatory agencies have ways to measure and control their impact.

      Some diffuse runoff into marshes comes from non-point sources such as lawns and farms when they become flooded beyond their capacity to absorb water. Particles or chemicals from the atmosphere that come down in rainwater are...

    • 6 Biological Alterations: Non-indigenous Species
      (pp. 150-172)

      People have been traveling around the globe for centuries, and they have always brought home souvenirs. The first greenhouses and “orangeries” were built to house plants during the winter that were brought to Europe by explorers returning from trips to the New World. On a larger scale, plants and animals frequently get transplanted unintentionally or as stowaways, and they don’t always settle easily into their new surroundings; sometimes they cause costly ecological and economic problems.

      When non-native species arrive in a new location, most of them either are harmless or do not survive the changed conditions and the new threats...

    • 7 Marsh Restoration and Management for Environmental Improvement
      (pp. 173-193)

      When ecosystems are destroyed or degraded, a great deal is lost. Water purification services and seafood are drastically affected, and many other less obvious ecological functions suffer and cause serious consequences for the surrounding area: nursery habitat for juvenile fishes and crustaceans is lost, the accumulation of sediment is affected, protection from coastal erosion is reduced, the recycling of nutrients and detoxifying and trapping of pollutants diminishes, and opportunities for relaxation and recreation disappear. It is clear that if people want to have these services, attention must be given to protecting and restoring the natural systems that provide them.


    • 8 Death and Rebirth of an Urban Wetland: The Hackensack Meadowlands
      (pp. 194-216)

      For most of the American public, the name “New Jersey Meadowlands” does not signify a tidal wetland at all, but is associated with network broadcasts of sporting events from the Meadowlands Sports Complex. This 715-acre complex was built in the 1970s on filled former tidal wetlands located within the Meadowlands District, and it is now also the site of a shopping mall and entertainment center, the Xanadu project. The national media have offered glimpses of the New Jersey Meadowlands in films and on television inBroadway Danny Rose, Being John Malkovich, and, of course,The Sopranos.

      The Hackensack Meadowlands is...

  8. Appendix: List of Species Discussed in the Text
    (pp. 217-222)
  9. References
    (pp. 223-236)
  10. Index
    (pp. 237-254)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-255)