Anthropogenic modification of New England salt marsh landscapes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Feb 5;99(3):1395-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.022447299. Epub 2002 Jan 29.


Salt marshes play a critical role in the ecology and geology of wave-protected shorelines in the Western Atlantic, but as many as 80% of the marshes that once occurred in New England have already been lost to human development. Here we present data that suggest that the remaining salt marshes in southern New England are being rapidly degraded by shoreline development and eutrophication. On the seaward border of these marshes, nitrogen eutrophication stimulated by local shoreline development is shifting the competitive balance among marsh plants by releasing plants from nutrient competition. This shift is leading to the displacement of natural high marsh plants by low marsh cordgrass. On the terrestrial border of these same marshes, shoreline development is also precipitating the invasion of the common reed, Phragmites, by means of nitrogen eutrophication caused by the removal of the woody vegetation buffer between terrestrial and salt marsh communities. As a consequence of these human impacts, traditional salt marsh plant communities and the plants and animals that are dependent on these habitats are being displaced by monocultures of weedy species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ecology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Geography
  • New England
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Seawater


  • Nitrogen