Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science

Tidal flat-wetland systems as flood defenses: Understanding biogeomorphic controls

Aug 17, 2018

Author(s): Denise Reed, Bregje van Wesenbeeck, Peter M.J. Herman, Ehab Meselhe

Coastal managers worldwide increasingly recognize the importance of conservation and restoration of natural coastal ecosystems. This ensures coastal resilience and provision of essential ecosystem services, such as wave attenuation reducing coastal flooding and erosion. In the continuum from unvegetated tidal flats to salt marshes and mangroves, fundamental physical controls as well as biotic interactions, and feedbacks among them, determine morphology and vegetation distribution. Although these processes are well described in established literature, this information is rarely applied to understanding the role of these ecosystems as coastal defense. The focus is often on specific elements of the complex system, such as vegetation structure and cover, rather than on their complex natural dynamics. This review examines whether and how the dynamic nature of tidal flat -wetlands systems contributes to, or detracts from, their role in coastal defense. It discusses how the characteristics of the system adjust to external forcing and how these adjustments affect ecosystem services. It also considers how human interventions can take advantage of natural processes to enhance or accelerate achievement of natural coastal defense.