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Spartina alterniflora / (Ascophyllum nodosum) Acadian/Virginian Zone Salt Marsh
Translated Name: Smooth Cordgrass / (Yellow Tang) Acadian/Virginian Zone Salt Marsh
Common Name: North Atlantic Low Salt Marsh
Unique Identifier: CEGL004192
Classification Approach: International Vegetation Classification (IVC)
Summary: This tall grassland dominated by Spartina alterniflora forms the low salt marsh of the north and mid-Atlantic Coast. It is diurnally flooded by tides, occurring in the intertidal zone between mean high tide and mean sea level in protected inlets behind barrier beaches or in the seaward reaches of drowned river valleys. It forms a coarse peat over sandy substrate. The low salt marsh occurs elevationally between high marsh that occurs landward and subtidal communities that occur seaward. Spartina alterniflora is limited to the low marsh zone by interspecific competition and by moderate salinity; it can withstand longer submergence than other salt marsh grasses but still requires periodic exposure of the substrate. Spartina alterniflora forms nearly monotypic stands with little variation across the geographic range of the community. Tall form Spartina alterniflora occurs adjacent to salt water and colonizes unvegetated flats. Associated species occur in low abundance and commonly include Limonium carolinianum, Salicornia virginica, Salicornia bigelovii, Spergularia maritima, Spergularia canadensis, and Suaeda maritima. Brown algae can form extensive mats at the bases of the grass culms, especially Ascophyllum nodosum, Fucus vesiculosus, Enteromorpha spp., and Ulva spp. Macroalgae associates may be sparse or absent at the southern edge of the range. This community occurs from Labrador to Virginia. Low marshes at the northern edge of the geographic range are far less extensive in size than those farther south due to differences in geomorphology and time since last glaciation.



Classification

Classification Confidence: Moderate
Classification Comments: This association can be differentiated from its mid-Atlantic counterpart Spartina alterniflora - Distichlis spicata Tidal Salt Marsh (CEGL006586) by its near absence of other vascular plants. In general, this association is characterized by tall (>1 m) Spartina alterniflora, although the short form of this species is not unusual. In the mid-Atlantic, the low salt marshes are usually codominated by a short form of Spartina alterniflora and Distichlis spicata. The floristic difference between the two associations may be explained by the lesser tidal amplitude in the mid-Atlantic (Flick and Ewing 1999), but further study is needed to confirm.

Vegetation Hierarchy
Class 2 - Shrub & Herb Vegetation
Subclass 2.C - Shrub & Herb Wetland
Formation 2.C.5 - Salt Marsh
Division 2.C.5.Nb - North American Atlantic & Gulf Coastal Salt Marsh
Macrogroup North American Atlantic & Gulf Coastal Salt Marsh
Group Atlantic & Gulf Coastal Low Salt Marsh
Alliance Smooth Cordgrass Low Salt Marsh

This is the revised vegetation hierarchy. For more information see Classification Sources and usnvc.org.

Similar Associations
Unique Identifier Name
CEGL004190 Spartina alterniflora - Juncus roemerianus - Distichlis spicata Louisianian Zone Tidal Salt Marsh
CEGL004191 Spartina alterniflora Carolinian Zone Salt Marsh
CEGL004193 Spartina alterniflora - Lilaeopsis chinensis Salt Marsh
CEGL006586 Spartina alterniflora - Distichlis spicata Tidal Salt Marsh



Related Concepts from Other Classifications

Related Subnational Community Units
These data are subject to substantial ongoing revision and may be out of date for some states.
In the U.S., contact the state Heritage Program for the most complete and up-to-date information at: http://www.natureserve.org/natureserve-network.
Information from programs in other jurisdictions will be posted when they are made available.
Subnation Concept Name Relationship to Standard Confidence Reference
Connecticut Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) community Equivalent Certain Metzler and Barrett 2006
Delaware North Atlantic Low Salt Marsh Equivalent Certain Coxe 2009
Maine Mixed Graminoid - Forb Saltmarsh Broader   Gawler 2002
Maryland Spartina alterniflora / (Ascophyllum nodosum) Acadian/Virginian Zone Herbaceous Vegetation Equivalent Certain Harrison 2011
Massachusetts Salt Marsh Broader   Swain and Kearsley 2001
New Hampshire Low Salt Marsh Equivalent   Sperduto 2000
New Jersey Spartina alterniflora / (Ascophyllum nodosum) Acadian/Virginian Zone Herbaceous Vegetation Equivalent Certain Breden et al. 2001
New York Low salt marsh Equivalent   Edinger et al. 2002
North Carolina Salt Marsh (Virginian Subtype) Equivalent Certain Schafale 2012
Rhode Island Low Salt Marsh Equivalent   Enser and Lundgren 2006


Other Related Concepts
Related Concept Name: Spartina alterniflora / (Ascophyllum nodosum) Acadian/Virginian Zone Herbaceous Vegetation
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Fleming, G. P., K. Taverna, and P. P. Coulling. 2007b. Vegetation classification for the National Capitol Region parks, eastern region. Regional (VA-MD-DC) analysis prepared for NatureServe and USGS-NPS Vegetation Mapping Program, March 2007. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond.
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Harrison, J. W., compiler. 2004. Classification of vegetation communities of Maryland: First iteration. A subset of the International Classification of Ecological Communities: Terrestrial Vegetation of the United States, NatureServe. Maryland Natural Heritage Program, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Annapolis. 243 pp.
Related Concept Name: Spartina alterniflora Herbaceous Vegetation
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Clancy, K. 1996. Natural communities of Delaware. Unpublished review draft. Delaware Natural Heritage Program, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Delaware Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Smyrna, DE. 52 pp.
Related Concept Name: Spartina alterniflora Tidal Herbaceous Vegetation
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Harrison, J. W. 2001. Herbaceous tidal wetland communities of Maryland's eastern shore: Identification, assessment and monitoring. Report submitted to the U.S. EPA (Clean Water Act 1998 State Wetlands Protection Development Grant Program). Biodiversity Program, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Heritage Division. 30 June 2001. [U.S. EPA Reference Wetland Natural communities of Maryland's Herbaceous Tidal Wetlands Grant #CD993724].
Related Concept Name: Spartina alterniflora community
Relationship: = - Equivalent
Reference: Metzler, K. J., and J. P. Barrett. 2001. Vegetation classification for Connecticut. Draft 5/21/2001. Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Center, Natural Diversity Database, Hartford.
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Metzler, K. J., and J. Barrett. 1992. Connecticut community classification. Unpublished draft. Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources Center, Natural Diversity Database, Hartford.
Related Concept Name: Spartina alterniflora salt marsh
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Clancy, K. 1993b. A preliminary classification of the natural communities of Delaware. Unpublished draft. Delaware Natural Heritage Inventory, Division of Parks and Recreation, Dover. 30 pp.
Related Concept Name: Cordgrass saltmarsh community
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: MNAP [Maine Natural Areas Program]. 1991. Natural landscapes of Maine: Classification of ecosystems and natural communities. Maine Natural Areas Program, Maine Department of Conservation, Natural Resources Information and Mapping Center, Augusta, ME. 77 pp.
Related Concept Name: Low salt marsh
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Enser, R. 1993. Natural community classification for Rhode Island (draft). Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program. Providence, RI.
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Reschke, C. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Latham, NY. 96 pp.
Related Concept Name: Low salt marsh community
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Sperduto, D. 1994. A classification of the natural communities of New Hampshire. April 1994 approximation. Unpublished document. New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory, Department of Resources and Economic Development, Concord, NH. 45 pp. plus appendices.
Related Concept Name: Mixed Graminoid - Forb Saltmarsh
Relationship: B - Broader
Reference: Gawler, S. C. 2002. Natural landscapes of Maine: A guide to vegetated natural communities and ecosystems. Maine Natural Areas Program, Department of Conservation, Augusta, ME.
Related Concept Name: Salt Marsh
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Rawinski, T. 1984a. Natural community description abstract - southern New England calcareous seepage swamp. Unpublished report. The Nature Conservancy, Boston, MA. 6 pp.
Related Concept Name: Salt marsh complex, low marsh
Relationship: ? - Undetermined
Reference: Breden, T. F. 1989. A preliminary natural community classification for New Jersey. Pages 157-191 in: E. F. Karlin, editor. New Jersey's rare and endangered plants and animals. Institute for Environmental Studies, Ramapo College, Mahwah, NJ. 280 pp.
Related Concept Name: Tidal Mesohaline / Polyhaline Marsh
Relationship: B - Broader
Reference: Fleming, G. P., P. P. Coulling, D. P. Walton, K. M. McCoy, and M. R. Parrish. 2001. The natural communities of Virginia: Classification of ecological community groups. First approximation. Natural Heritage Technical Report 01-1. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond, VA. 76 pp.
Related Concept Name: Tidal Mesohaline Marsh
Relationship: B - Broader
Reference: Harrison, J. W., compiler. 2004. Classification of vegetation communities of Maryland: First iteration. A subset of the International Classification of Ecological Communities: Terrestrial Vegetation of the United States, NatureServe. Maryland Natural Heritage Program, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Annapolis. 243 pp.

Ecological Systems Placement

Ecological Systems Placement
Ecological System Unique ID Ecological System Name
CES201.578 Acadian Coastal Salt Marsh
CES203.260 Atlantic Coastal Plain Embayed Region Tidal Salt and Brackish Marsh
CES203.519 Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain Tidal Salt Marsh


NatureServe Conservation Status
Global Status: G5 (01Dec1997)
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure

Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
United States Distribution: CT, DE, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, RI, VA
Canadian Province Distribution: NB, NS, QC
Global Distribution: Canada, United States
Global Range: This association occurs along the Atlantic coastline from Labrador and New Brunswick south to Delaware.

U.S. Forest Service Ecoregions
Domain Name: Humid Temperate Domain
Division Name: Warm Continental Division
Province Name: Laurentian Mixed Forest Province
Province Code: 212 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Fundy Coastal and Interior Section
Section Code: 212C Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Central Maine Coastal and Embayment Section
Section Code: 212D Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Division Name: Hot Continental Division
Province Name: Eastern Broadleaf Forest (Oceanic) Province
Province Code: 221 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Lower New England Section
Section Code: 221A Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Division Name: Subtropical Division
Province Name: Outer Coastal Plain Mixed Forest Province
Province Code: 232 Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Middle Atlantic Coastal Plain Section
Section Code: 232A Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Coastal Plains and Flatwoods, Lower Section
Section Code: 232B Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Atlantic Coastal Flatwoods Section
Section Code: 232C Occurrence Status: Confident or certain


Vegetation

Vegetation Summary: This community is a tall grassland dominated by Spartina alterniflora occurring in regularly flooded intertidal zones. Spartina alterniflora dominates this physically stressful zone due to limited competition and its ability to tolerate salinity and flooding. It also requires moderately high levels of iron (7-15 ppm) (Adams 1963). Spartina alterniflora is strongly dominant, forming a nearly monotypic tallgrass layer. There is little variation in vascular plant composition across the range. Tall-form Spartina alterniflora occurs adjacent to saltwater and colonizes unvegetated flats. This association also grades into short-form Spartina alterniflora landward where tidal range is more restricted. Common associates, occurring in low abundance, include Limonium carolinianum, Salicornia virginica, Salicornia bigelovii, Spergularia maritima, Spergularia canadensis, and Suaeda maritima. Distichlis spicata, Agalinis maritima, Symphyotrichum tenuifolium (= Aster tenuifolius), and Spartina patens can also sporadically occur, but are more common in the high salt marsh. Brown algae can form extensive mats at the bases of the grass culms, especially Ascophyllum nodosum, Fucus vesiculosus, and Ulva spp. Enteromorpha spp. can occur early in the growing season. Macroalgae associates may be sparse or absent at the southern edge of the range. Microscopic algae, especially diatoms, can be abundant on the marsh surface (Teal 1986).

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Charact-
eristic
Dominant Constant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Spartina alterniflora G5 Graminoid Herb (field)  
 
 


Environmental Setting

Wetland Indicator: Y
Environmental Summary: This low salt marsh community occurs in the regularly flooded intertidal zone, approximately from mean high tide to mean sea level; it is diurnally flooded by tides and classified as polyhaline (18-30 ppt). This low marsh occurs in areas sheltered from direct wave action, such as behind barrier beaches, as pocket marshes at the heads of bays, or in the outer reaches of estuaries. Low salt marshes occur landward of intertidal flats and subtidal communities and seaward of high salt marsh communities. Low salt marshes dominated by Spartina alterniflora generally occur on mucky silt to silty coarse fibrous peat, often with high organic matter content. However, peat in the low marsh is generally less dense than farther landward (Bertness 1988). Peat depth ranges from a few feet, if the community formed over a mudflat, to 80 feet in drowned river valleys at the mouths of estuaries.


Dynamic Processes

Dynamics: Salt marshes are dynamic habitats. Spartina alterniflora readily colonizes soft sediments off the seaward edge of the salt marsh (Bertness 1988). Grass culms and algal mats trap sediments brought in by the tides and begin the process of marsh peat accumulation. As peat development raises marsh elevation, low marsh succeeds to high marsh communities; Spartina alterniflora performance declines as peat accumulates and becomes more dense. Flotsam and jetsam brought in by tides can smother local patches of vegetation and form unvegetated to sparsely vegetated pannes, a phenomenon that occurs regularly on high marshes. Tidal creeks form sinuous patterns throughout the low marsh draining the diurnal tides.


Plot Sampling & Classification Analysis

Plots stored in VegBank


Authors/Contributors
Concept Author(s): Eastern Ecology Group 12-95, mod. S.L. Neid
Element Description Edition Date: 06Sep2013
Element Description Author(s): S.L. Neid

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).


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