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Salt Marsh Succession
Saltmarshes are mainly seen in river estuaries or behind spits. To begin with,
they develop from mudflats as thin layers of mud containing algae build up. At
this stage they are only visible at low tide. Eventually this encourages more
vegetation to develop. Eel grass and similar plants grow, slowing down the
water and trapping more sediment.
As the mud deepens, plants that can survive in salty
conditions begin to grow. These trap even more sediment and are known as
pioneer plants. Some examples of salt marsh pioneer plants include
glasswort, spartina and sea blite. Channels in the mud are cut by receding
water at low tide. This area of the marsh is known as the low marsh.
The plant spartina reduces the harshness of the tidal
environment and allows additional vegetation to grow. The high marsh begins
to develop, containing plants such as sea lavender, red fescue and sea thrift. As
the vegetation colonises the foliage can become up to 15cm high. As a result,
the build-up of sediment and dead organic matter increases and the soil fertility
improves. The water channels also deepen and become more established.
Eventually the salt marsh begins to rise and is only covered at high tide.
The channels deepen further due to runoff and the salinity of the
When the marsh is even more developed still, trees like alder and ash
begin to grow. This completes the succession, known as halosere.