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Succession is concerned with community development over time. Find out more in our general section on succession.

Salt Marsh

Succession in a Salt Marsh


We are now entering the final stage of community development on our salt marsh. This is called the climax stage.

The height of the shore is now such that it is only immersed on exceptional tides maybe once or twice a year. What sort of vegetation we end up with depends on several things.

If you consult the section on climaxes (the mind boggles) (see link above) you will see that it is not exactly clear what is meant by a climax. People vary in their interpretation of the term. Maybe a lot of the controversy stems from using terms like stable without defining them.

At the top of our salt marsh we get species like Juncus maritimus (rush) and Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (sedge) in the damper bits and Festuca rubra (red fescue grass) in the dryer bits. Does this constitute a climax vegetation? It all depends what you mean by climax. If there's a freshwater influence at the top of the marsh the salt marsh will probably develop into freshwater marsh and that will develop into scrub and finally forest. (This has occurred at some East Anglian sites). On the other hand where there is no freshwater influence the upper salt marsh community appears to be very stable with time, so you might regard it as a climax. The famous botanist Sir Arthur Tansley (who coined the term ecosystem) regarded such vegetation as a regional climatic climax. The probably not quite as famous botanist V.J. Chapman (who knew a heck of a lot about salt marshes) called it a sere climax.

There are other terms you could use like sub-climax or dysclimax.

If you think the climax is different because of human intervention (for example because of a dyke or because of grazing or trampling ) you could call it a deflected or plagio-climax.

<< Succession: Stabilisation

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