Salt marsh fragmentation in a mesotidal estuary: Implications for medium to long-term management

M. Aranda*, G. Peralta, J. Montes, F. J. Gracia, G. S. Fivash, T. J. Bouma, D. van der Wal

*Corresponding author for this work

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During the last decades many salt marshes worldwide have suffered important losses in their extent and associated ecosystem services. The salt marshes of San Vicente de la Barquera estuary (N Spain) are a clear example of this, with a drastic reduction in vegetation surface over the last 60 years. This paper provides insights into the main factors controlling salt marsh functioning in sheltered estuarine areas. Regional and local factors have been disaggregated to identify the main drivers controlling the functioning of the salt marsh to develop appropriate management measures according to the evolution of the system. These factors have been studied in their spatial context through detailed maps of change in vegetation cover combined with topographic data obtained from UAV and RTK-DGPS surveys. The results demonstrate that in this estuary the salt marsh area is declining following a fragmentation process. No clear pattern of vegetation loss/gain with elevation has been identified. However, the results point to increased hydrodynamic stress in the area, with stronger currents inside the estuary. This is probably the major factor responsible for the decline of the salt marshes in the San Vicente de la Barquera estuary. Furthermore, several human interventions during the 20th century (local drivers) have also probably contributed to a lower resilience against SLR (regional driver). This work demonstrates that both natural and human drivers of change need to be considered when characterizing the evolution of salt marshes, wherever efficient management strategies need to be designed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number157410
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10-Nov-2022


  • Eco-geomorphology
  • Estuaries
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Resilience
  • Salt marshes

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