Duke Study: Salt Marshes Depend On Crabs, Snails And Fungus For Preservation

Dec 26, 2013

Salt marsh ecosystems depend on healthy biodiversity.
Credit Rob Bixby / RobBixbyPhotography, Flickr Creative Commons

A new study from Duke University shows the importance of maintaining key species to support biodiversity. 

Researchers manipulated the populations of crabs, snails and fungus in a salt marsh in Georgia.  Brian Silliman is an associate professor of marine conservation biology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.  He says each species provides an important function in preserving the marsh. 

“The crabs increase the filtration rate of the marsh by 500 percent and the snails had no effect on the filtration. But the snails were increasing the amount of nutrient cycling by 300 percent,” Silliman says.  “So really it was diversity, but also the quality of diversity -- you needed these highly distantly related species to get those functions that we hold dear and are important to us.”

Silliman says a healthy marsh protects the coastline and fisheries.  He says the next step is to study the role microbes play in salt marshes.