A geohydrologic continuum theory for the spatial and temporal evolution of marsh-estuarine ecosystems

R. Dame, D. Childers, E. Koepfler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Using ecosystem development theory and the River Continuum Concept as starting points, we present a new holistic theory to explain the spatial and temporal behaviour of marsh-estuarine ecosystems Along the marine-estuarine-freshwater gradient in response to sea-level rise. In this theory, a geohydrologic continuum represented by tidal channel provides a predictable physical model of how the marsh-estuarine ecosystem adapts until there is a change of state. North Inlet, South Carolina is used as an example of this marsh-estuarine continuum. Mature creeks are at the ocean-estuary interface and are strongly influenced by marine factors. Further into the estuary, less and less mature creeks are encountered which are dominated by smaller scale spatial and temporal controls such as oyster reefs. Immature or ephemeral creeks import both particulate and dissolved materials, while mature creeks export both forms of nutrients. Mid-aged creeks appear to take up particulate materials and release dissolved constituents. Ultimately, the continuum reaches the fresh-saltwater interface where a very young estuarine ecosystem invades a more mature type, under the influence of disturbance. Our new explanation satisfies most criteria for a good theory by being internally consistent to the location specified, generating testable hypothesis, not blindly adapting existing theories, agreeing with known properties of the ecosystem described and by generating new invigorating discussion within the scientific community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-72
Number of pages10
JournalNetherlands Journal of Sea Research
Issue numberC
StatePublished - Dec 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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