Date of Award

Spring 2009

Document Type

Legacy Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies


Coastal and Marine Systems Science


College of Science

First Advisor

Keith R. Walters

Second Advisor

John J. Hutchens, Jr.

Third Advisor

James O. Luken


Stem age and resultant changes in structural characteristics may affect Spartina alterniflora Loisel. (smooth cordgrass) stem suitability as a habitat for micro-metazoans. I studied S. alterniflora stem age and effects on the abundance of stem-associated micro-metazoans in a salt marsh behind Waties Island, South Carolina during spring, summer, and fall 2007. Greater abundance was hypothesized to occur on stems of intermediate age because of the quality of leaf sheaths on older live stems. Spartina alterniflora is prevalent in South Carolina salt marshes, yet micro-metazoan stem fauna have not been extensively studied. The study was conducted at a mid-marsh elevation where S. alterniflora stems of intermediate height (ca. 1 m) were divided into three broad age categories: early = short live stems, intermediate = taller live stems, and late = standing-dead stems. Stem density and age composition were estimated monthly within quadrats. Additionally, two studies termed "static" and "cohort" were conducted simultaneously. The static study was a collection of ten stems from each age category, sampled monthly for stem fauna. In the cohort study, 200 tillers were tagged and a subset of ten was sampled monthly. Fauna from each tagged stem occurred in a 1:1 ratio in interior and exterior microhabitats. Faunal density (# per stem surface area) was significantly greater on stems in the late category than on stems in the early and intermediate categories. However, faunal density (# per stem mass) was significantly greater for early stems than for intermediate and late. Nematodes represented 55% of organisms on stems; harpacticoid copepods were 15%, and mites represented about 12%. Results suggested that S. alterniflora stems were important, temporally-variable habitats for micro-metazoans and that the age of a given stem influenced the associated fauna.