Date of Award

Summer 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

John J. Hutchens, Jr.

Second Advisor

Keith R. Walters

Third Advisor

James O. Luken


Suburban communities are growing to accommodate the rising population along Eastern US coasts, thus increasing the amount of impervious surface (i.e., roads and rooftops) and unforested area (e.g., lawns) present around coastal marshes. High levels of impervious surface can increase nutrient and freshwater runoff potentially affecting the plant assemblage of the high salt marsh. As a result, reduced plant diversity, greater aboveground biomass of existing species, and a greater incidence of invasive species such as Phragmites australis could occur. To examine if development was affecting the high salt marsh of Murrells Inlet estuary, I measured soil nutrient and porewater salinity levels, plant species diversity, and aboveground and belowground biomass at 11 sites in three shoreline treatments: 1) undeveloped, 2) developed with a vegetated riparian border, and 3) developed without a vegetated riparian border. I also created cleared plots and performed transplants to examine if increased development would affect new plant growth. Shoreline development appeared to significantly affect the high marsh of Murrells Inlet estuary. Greater nutrient availability was reflected in increased aboveground biomass and greater nitrogen storage in Juncus plant tissue in developed areas. High aboveground and belowground biomass of Juncus likely inhibited establishment and growth of fugitive marsh species and invasive species such as Phragmites. Greater soil zinc levels were detected in developed sites and may be a good indicator of development. Shoreline slopes also were significantly different in developed sites. Recently accelerating shoreline development in the southeastern United States may have increasingly detrimental effects on high marsh plant composition and physical structure.