Conditional outcome of ecosystem engineering: A case study on tussocks of the salt marsh pioneer Spartina anglica

Thorsten Balke*, Paul C. Klaassen, Angus Garbutt, Daphne Van der Wal, Peter M.J. Herman, Tjeerd J. Bouma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


The salt marsh grass . Spartina anglica is an important habitat-modifying ecosystem engineering agent that facilitates large-scale salt marsh formation by enhancing sediment accretion. It dominates many European tidal environments and is invasive in many other parts of the world. We question (1) to what extent the ecosystem engineering ability of patchy . Spartina vegetation depends on large-scale abiotic processes, and (2) whether tussock shape provides an indicator for future lateral salt marsh development. Analysing the topography of 83 individual tussocks in contrasting environments revealed that there are 6 clearly distinguishable tussock shapes, and that the classical example of a sediment-accumulating dome-shaped tussock only occurs under a limited set of abiotic conditions. The outcome of habitat modification by . S. anglica is shown to be conditional, depending on large-scale morphodynamics and sediment grain size. Resulting tussock shape provides a clear indication for the long-term development of the pioneer zone. Understanding of the conditional outcome of ecosystem engineering is highly relevant in this era of climate change and ongoing anthropogenic influences on coastal ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-238
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Biogeomorphology
  • Context dependency
  • Cordgrass
  • Pioneer zone
  • Salt marsh
  • Tidal flat


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