Nature-based shoreline protection by tidal marsh plants depends on trade-offs between avoidance and attenuation of hydrodynamic forces

Ken Schoutens*, Maike Heuner, Elmar Fuchs, Vanessa Minden, Tilla Schulte-Ostermann, Jean Philippe Belliard, Tjeerd J. Bouma, Stijn Temmerman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In face of growing land-flooding and shoreline-erosion risks along coastal and estuarine shorelines, tidal marshes are increasingly proposed as part of nature-based protection strategies. While the effect of plant species traits on their capacity to attenuate waves and currents has been extensively studied, the effect of species traits on their capacity to cope with and grow under wave and current forces has received comparatively less attention. We studied the relationships between species zonation and the associated two-way interactions between species traits and hydrodynamics, by quantifying the effectiveness of avoidance and attenuation of hydrodynamic forces under field conditions. Measurements were done for two pioneer tidal marsh species in the brackish part of the Elbe estuary (Germany). Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (S. tabernaemontani), which grows as a single stem without leaves and Bolboschoenus maritimus (B. maritimus) which grows as a triangular stem with multiple leaves. Our results reveal that S. tabernaemontani grows more seaward being exposed to stronger hydrodynamic forces than B. maritimus. The stems of S. tabernaemontani have, in comparison to B. maritimus, a lower flexural stiffness and less biomass, which decrease the experienced drag forces, thereby favoring its capacity to avoid hydrodynamic stress. At the same time, these plant traits which favor such avoidance capacity, were shown to also result in a lower capacity to attenuate waves and currents. Hence this implies that there are trade-offs between avoiding and attenuating hydrodynamic forces. Most efficient attenuation of waves and currents is thus only reached when species have the ability to grow under the prevailing hydrodynamic forces. Therefore, we argue that the two-way interaction between plants and hydrodynamics contributes to species zonation. The presence of this species zonation in turn enhances the overall efficiency of nature-based shoreline protection in pioneer tidal marshes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106645
Number of pages11
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2020


  • Flow attenuation
  • Shoreline protection
  • Tidal marshes
  • Trade-off
  • Wave attenuation


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