June 28, 2021
Can you see the two different types of plants in front of you? What about that large pile of dead plant stems? Each of these plants, dead or alive, contributes in different ways to keeping the salt marsh healthy and functioning. On the left you have the smooth cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, the main plant species responsible for building marsh elevation high enough to escape sea-level rise. On the right, you have the invasive common reed, Phragmites australis, a plant that greatly contributes to carbon storage through its large roots and tall plant stems. In the middle you have a large pile of dead plant stems, (know as 'wrack' or 'sea oars'), which creates a safe home for worms, snails, crabs, and other marine life. Climate change can cause a shift in where each of these plants live, what time of year they turn green, and when they produce flowers. Your photo submission will help us answer how this salt marsh, its plants, and the landscape are changing over time. Thank you for contributing to our time-lapse in partnership with the Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research Program , the University of Virginia's Coastal Research Center, and The Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve Chapter.
How do slow, progressive environmental changes (like sea level rise) interact with brief disturbances like storms to shape our seaside landscape? We are trying to find out. Since the mid 1980s, scientists and students from over half a dozen universities have worked together through the VCR Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program to better understand coastal forests, salt marshes, oyster reefs, seagrass meadows, and barrier islands. Our goal is to not only UNDERSTAND how coastal systems work but also to PREDICT how they may function or change in the future due to the effects of changes in climate, sea level and land use. We also connect any of those changes to the ecological services the coastal barrier systems provide to you, such as flood protection or fisheries habitat. Beyond VA's coast, we are connected to a national network of LTER sites, studying and comparing environments all over the country and world.