From the Past into the Future: Analysis of the Ecological Classic Energy Flow in the Salt Marsh Ecosystem of Georgia Used to Pave the Way from Years Past into Years to Come Biology 112: Dr. Robert Peet Jasmine S. Summers November 18, 2005 It has often been said that the past is the key to the future. This statement is no truer than in the many fields of education where since the dawn of the written word the information accumulated in the past has been used to generate? insight into the present and will continue on into the future. The field of ecology does not have roots as deep as some of the other educational disciplines. John M. Teal is a scholar who laid the ground work for ecological studies of salt marshes.[Not really – salt marsh ecology was around prior to Teal. His contribution had to do with energy budgets, and the paper was also important for the insights this approach provided that had not been aanticipated.] His classical paper Energy Flow in the Salt Marsh Ecosystem of Georgia (Teal, 1962) has been sited over one hundred times (did you really look – SCI shows in excess of 500 citations) to date and is continuing to encourage new studies following in his footsteps. Teal’s work examined several organisms and their contributions to the biomass of the surrounding area. This encouraged others to examine microorganisms in marine environments, the effects of organism in similar habitats, as well as the inner workings of other salt marshes. When Teal was writing his impact paper science was entering an age where technological advances were taking every discipline to a new unthought-of level. These advances are generally taken for granted in modern day laboratories but their abilities are allowing for Teal and others like him, to see their work go further than they ever imagined. DNA technology is still considered a modern marvel but its use is unparalleled. Ecologists are now using its powers to take their work from the macroscopic to the microscopic level. This is the case with Dang and Lovell (2000) whose work is focused on bacterial colonization in marine environments. Teal immediately noticed the importance of Spartina alterniflora in his Georgia salt marshes and deemed it his only high plant of importance during the study. Its value was measured on its affects on primary production and respiration (Teal, 1962). With Teal taking such a strong interest in a single organism, and with his work standing the test of time, many others have become intrigued by what he deemed important. In a study where bacteria was the star organism Teal’s valued plant creeps into the manuscript. The reasoning lies in the fact that all aspects of the marine habitat are tied into the production of this single organism. “Most of the particulate load is detritus resulting from decay of Spartina alterniflora, the dominate macrophyte in the low marsh zones” (Dang and Lovell, 2000). Teal has influenced works, which on the surface appear to be if at all, only slightly related to his passion. However, as with many other classical publications, they being deemed a classic is based on the versatility to influence many disciplines within a given field of study. Teal noticed that environmental changes to the landscape had very specific effects on the productivity of the salt marsh. “There are 2 principle reasons why the salt marsh should have the less efficient alternative of the 2 paths to community stability. There is only one higher plant on the marsh and consequently a lack of variety of possible niches such as could be found in a forest at the same latitude. Possibly even more important is the restriction of biomass by the removal of much of the marsh production by the tidal currents (Teal, 1962). As Teal and others pointed out there is a great deal of stability in salt marsh ecosystem, a characteristic that makes it evolutionarily favorable. Tidal currents, however, pose one of the few disturbances. As Teal points out ecosystems of this caliber without many organisms are severely harmed by these disturbances which may lead to potential or total extinction. Having used Teal as a basis for background information, Sklar and Browder. Their question was directed to the habitat of the Gulf of Mexico and changes in its freshwater flow affected the surrounding environment. It is still the same general question of the affects of aquatic flow, however, now the impact of freshwater versus salt water can be studied. As pointed out by Sklar and Browder, prior to their work there was little to no investigation of how freshwater affected marine habitats. The work done by Teal provided the proper experimental techniques as well as a means by which to formulate testable hypothesizes. These scientists followed in their predecessors footsteps by examining ecological processes, unlike the geographic or pollution approaches taken by many of their peers. As Teal pointed out, salinity tolerance, and light exposure are a key components to survival in salt water marshes (Teal, 1962). Sklar and Browder (year) found this to be true as well and used this information to test if freshwater inflow, rather than salt water had an impact on these aspects. Their study suggested that influxes of freshwater into coastal waters strengthened costal blooms, but the excess filtering by marshes and estuaries decreases inorganic nutrient deposition into coastal waters. Overall it seems the affects of the freshwater inflow is best observed on the basis of time in that both mangroves and seagrasses function on the timing and quality of freshwater. The more common, and intense the freshwater inflow, the more the salinity levels suffer having an adverse affect on the distribution of sea plant life. Teal’s vision allowed these researchers to explore salt water habitats (Gulf of Mexico) closely related to his salt water marshes, with an eye for observing changes. Though the piece has not been nominated for any awards it is growing in citation and is urging other researchers to take notice of those in-between habitats that have similar to many, but unique unto themselves. The work done by Teal, has opened the minds of many to view his experimental location of choice more than a desolate waste land, but a thriving ecosystem, about which very little is known. There are instances, however, when classic authors may not be completely correct in their observations. Teal’s study in Georgia hypothesized that production in the marsh was maintained by “bottom-up” forces. This theory is questioned by Silliman and Bertness (2002) who believed a trophic cascade regulated primary production, meaning this is produced from the top and moves downward. Teal believed primary production and respiration began with the nutrient levels from the water and soil. Using this as fuel, Silliman and Bertness studied Teal’s only plant of importance Spartina for two years in two different marshes, with the belief that the consumers drive the production of the ecosystem from the top down. Their study showed support for this hypothesis with their manipulation of periwinkle densities and observation of Littoraia (Silliman and Bertness, 2002). This study is a prime example of new science being fueled by the belief that previous science is incorrect or flawed. Without the work of Teal and others he influenced this new, controversial study may have never been tested. Prior to the work of Teal, salt marshes, were one of the last places one could find an upstanding educated gentleman of science. Ecologists spent their days in organized greenhouses, and occasional field trips to beautiful mountain ranges, and rainforest. Following his work, however, many noticed there may be more to these salt marshes than previously thought. “Salt marshes are now widely recognized as playing a major role in coastal defense, in wildlife conservation on the coast and as a key source of organic material and nutrients vitally important for a wide range of marine communities” (Boorman, 1999). Boorman’s work focused on the importance of the salt marsh, and how its vitality cannot be replaced or overlooked. Teal pointed out in his work that many species indirectly benefit form the salt marsh itself, and the marshes were areas of high productivity. Boorman used this information as well as a collection of other sources to sing the praises of the modern salt marsh in hopes to encourage better preservation of these habitats. Teal’s nearly fifty year old work supports these present day findings that salt marshes are irreplaceable ecosystems, which better all life around them. It can clearly been seen how this past work is driving present day observations, and will likely be the cornerstone in future preservation. Classical works are important to every discipline, from the classical works of Shakespeare, to the timeless writings of Aristotle, on up to the modern marvels Watson and Crick. John Teal is among one of those classical authors in the field of ecology and his work on salt water marshes has a strong impact even today. His work has spawned new research following in his footsteps, and opposing views being studied based on the theories he proposed. His work is taking research out of the pleasant habitats of rainforest and into the trenches of the not so picturesque marshes often overlooked until his research. A look into his past will bring modern day science right into the future of ecological studies and practices. Citations need some work. Paper needs a clearer focus on one aspect of the classic and tracing it forwards in order to demonstrate its importance/impact. Well written, though I think the real impact of the work is not immediately clear. The importance must transcend salt marshes to generate >500 citations. 17 B Bibliography Boorman, L. A. 1999. Salt Marshes- Present Functioning and Future Change. Mangrove and Salt Marshes. 3: 227-241. Dang. Hongyue., and C. R. Lovell. 2000. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 66(2): 467-475. Silliman, B. R., and M. D. Bertness. 2002. A Trophic Cascade Regulates Salt Marsh Primary Production. PNAS. 99(16): 10500-10505. Sklar, Fred H., and Joan A. Browder. 1998. Coastal Environmental Impacts Brought About by Alterations to Freshwater Flow in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental Management. 22(4): 547-562. Teal, John M. 1962. Salt Marshes – Present Functioning and Future Change. Ecology 43(4): 614-624.