The role of herbicides in the erosion of salt marshes in eastern England

C. F. Mason, G. J.C. Underwood, N. R. Baker, P. A. Davey, I. Davidson, A. Hanlon, S. P. Long, K. Oxborough, D. M. Paterson, A. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Laboratory studies and field trials were conducted to investigate the role of herbicides on saltmarsh vegetation, and their possible significance to saltmarsh erosion. Herbicide concentrations within the ranges present in the aquatic environment were found to reduce the photosynthetic efficiency and growth of both epipelic diatoms and higher saltmarsh plants in the laboratory and in situ. The addition of sublethal concentrations of herbicides resulted in decreased growth rates and photosynthetic efficiency of diatoms and photosynthetic efficiency of higher plants. Sediment stability also decreased due to a reduction in diatom EPS production. There was qualitative evidence that diatoms migrated deeper into the sediment when the surface was exposed to simazine, reducing surface sediment stability by the absence of a cohesive biofilm. Sediment loads on leaves severely reduced photosynthesis in Limonium vulgare. This, coupled with reduced carbon assimilation from the effects of herbicides, could have large negative consequences for plant productivity and over winter survival of saltmarsh plants. The data support the hypothesis that sublethal herbicide concentrations could be playing a role in the increased erosion of salt marshes that has occurred over the past 40 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-49
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Erosion
  • Herbicides
  • Salt marsh

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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