From the Past into the Future:

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
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.