Native cordgrass Spartina alterniflora dominates intertidal salt marsh along thousands of miles of the U.S. East and Gulf coasts.
Salt marsh is vital for the resilience of coastlines.
Salt marsh protects coastal property from flood damage, serves as a nursery ground for commercially important fish, and supports an abundance of shellfish and birds. Salt marshes also take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their sediments as peat. And they help purify surface waters by removing nitrogen and other pollutants in runoff from land.
But salt marsh resilience is being tested--rising sea levels threaten to drown salt marsh. Only with strong grass growth and the ability to trap sediment will salt marsh persist in the face of global change.
Symbiosis is at the core of salt marsh health
We are studying the crucial partnership among cordgrass roots and sulfur-cycling microbes that is central to salt marsh health. Sporobolus alterniflorus (previously named Spartina alterniflora) is a native cordgrass that dominates intertidal salt marshes along thousands of miles of the U.S. East and Gulf coasts.
With funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation's Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems initiative, we are establishing stable, replicable, simplified model symbiotic systems ("sym-systems") that will offer a powerful new approach for understanding the communication and functional interactions among the foundation members of the salt marsh platform community. We are using plants and microbes isolated from the Plum Island Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Research (PIE-LTER) site north of Boston, and from Little Sippewissett Marsh near Woods Hole, Mass.