My research interests focus primarily on the way humans have altered salt marsh community structure and the mechanisms that underlie salt marsh ecology. Nearly 40 years of recreational fishing on Cape Cod has depleted top predators and released the marsh crab Sesarma reticulatum from predator control. Sesarma’s populations have since increased and the crab has wreaked havoc on the marsh through its burrowing and herbivory, which denude the marsh of cordgrass and lead to sediment erosion, creek bank calving into the water, and wide swaths of die-off along the New England coast.Salt marsh die-off is a serious conservation issue because salt marshes are one of the most valuable ecosystem service providers on the planet, providing essential services including storm buffering, biochemical processing of terrestrial runoff, carbon sequestration and storage, and nursery ground function for commercially and recreationally important fin- and shellfish.
My research involves experimentally triggering die-off in healthy salt marshes. In doing so, I directly and unambiguously test the hypothesis that predator depletion triggers Sesarma-driven creek bank die-off. My research will provide data on the drivers of Cape Cod marsh die-off that can inform state and NGO conservation and management efforts*.
Work funded by a Brown University Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award