Hydrologic, vegetation, and substrate characteristics of floating marshes in sediment-rich wetlands of the Mississippi river delta plain, Louisiana, USA

Research paper by Charles E. Sasser, James G. Gosselink, Erick M. Swenson, D. Elaine Evers

Indexed on: 01 Jun '95Published on: 01 Jun '95Published in: Wetlands Ecology and Management


Floating marshes occur over 70% of the western Terrebonne Basin, Louisiana, USA, freshwater coastal wetlands. They are of several types: A free-floating thick-mat (45–60 cm) marsh dominated by Panicum hemitomon and Sagittaria lancifolia; a thick mat marsh dominated by Panicum hemitomon and Sagittaria lancifolia that floats part of the year, but whose vertical floating range is damped compared to adjacent water; and an irregularly-floating thin mat (< 30 cm) dominated by Eleocharis spp. in the spring and Ludwigia leptocarpa and Bidens laevis in the summer and fall. Floating mats must be almost entirely organic in order to be buoyant enough to float. The western Terrebonne wetlands receive large winter/spring supplies of suspended sediments from the Atchafalaya River. Even though sediment concentrations in the adjacent bayou are as high as 100 mg l−1, the Panicum hemitomon/Sagittaria lancifolia free-floating marsh probably receives no over-surface sediments since it floats continuously. The bulk density data of the damped-floating marsh, however, suggest some mineral sediment input, probably during winter when this marsh is submerged. These two types of floating marsh could not have developed in the present sediment regime of the Atchafalaya River, but as long as they remain floating can continue to exist. Thin floating mats are found in areas receiving the least sediment (<20 mg 1−1 suspended sediment concentration in adjacent bayous). This low sediment environment probably made possible their formation within the past 20 years. They may represent a transitional stage in mat succession from (1) existing thick-mat floating marsh to a degrading floating marsh, or (2) a floating marsh developing in shallow open water.