Roads, bridges, and dikes constructed across salt marshes can restrict tidal flow, degrade habitat quality for nekton, and facilitate invasion by non-native plants including Phragmites australis. Introduced P. australis contributes to marsh accretion and eliminates marsh surface pools thereby adversely affecting fish by reducing access to intertidal habitats essential for feeding, reproduction, and refuge. Our study assessed the condition of resident fish populations (Fundulus heteroclitus) at four tidally restricted and four tidally restored marshes in New England invaded by P. australis relative to adjacent reference salt marshes. We used physiological and morphological indicators of fish condition, including proximate body composition (% lipid, % lean dry, % water), recent daily growth rate, age class distributions, parasite prevalence, female gravidity status, length-weight regressions, and a common morphological indicator (Fulton's K) to assess impacts to fish health. We detected a significant increase in the quantity of parasites infecting fish in tidally restricted marshes but not in those where tidal flow was restored to reduce P. australis cover. Using fish length as a covariate, we found that unparasitized, non-gravid F. heteroclitus in tidally restricted marshes had significantly reduced lipid reserves and increased lean dry (structural) mass relative to fish residing in reference marshes. Fish in tidally restored marshes were equivalent across all metrics relative to those in reference marshes indicating that habitat quality was restored via increased tidal flushing. Reference marshes adjacent to tidally restored sites contained the highest abundance of young fish (ages 0-1) while tidally restricted marshes contained the lowest. Results indicate that F. heteroclitus residing in physically and hydrologically altered marshes are at a disadvantage relative to fish in reference marshes but the effects can be reversed through ecological restoration. © 2012 Dibble, Meyerson.
Dibble, K. L., & Meyerson, L. A. (2012). Tidal Flushing Restores the Physiological Condition of Fish Residing in Degraded Salt Marshes. PLoS ONE, 7(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0046161