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This article was originally published in Estuaries and Coasts, 18 March 2022. Version of record may be found at


Dense monocultures of the grass Spartina alterniflora dominate the low marsh in typical New England tidal marshes. These marshes provide a number of important ecosystem services; thus, it is important to understand the factors that influence S. alterniflora productivity. End of season live biomass is often used to estimate S. alterniflora productivity, but this measure fails to account for stems lost within the growing season and may lead to a significant underestimate. We explored two possible factors that may influence S. alterniflora stem loss within the growing season: 1) density-dependent mortality (self-thinning), and 2) the physical force of moving water via tidal action. At four tidal creeks in the Plum Island Sound estuary, Massachusetts, we found that on average 34% of the S. alterniflora stems present in June were lost by August, but this varied from 11-44% among creeks. This stem loss accounted for at least 20% of the estimated annual productivity. We found little evidence that tidal action drives spatial variation in stem loss. Seasonal stem loss was greater in stands with higher early season density, consistent with self-thinning. As self-thinning occurred, density became more similar among creeks, meaning that end of the season density patterns are not reflective of early season stands. Adding a simple measure of early season stem density can improve productivity estimates by incorporating loss due to self-thinning.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.