Esf 539: Coastal Geoecology of New England Autumn 2013

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ESF 539: Coastal Geoecology of New England

Autumn 2013

Pre-trip meetings:

Wednesday, September 18, 5-7:30pm

Wednesday, September 25, 5-7:30pm
Post-trip meeting:

Wednesday, October 23, 5:00-7:30 PM

Field trip dates:

September 28-October 2, 2013

Cape Cod National Seashore

Instructor: Dr. Rachel Thiet

Phone: 603-283-2337

Office hours by appointment
In this five-day field study course we will examine the geoecology of glaciated coasts in New England using Cape Cod as a model system. Course themes include landscape to local-scale depositional and erosional processes as influenced by coastal climate and disturbance; barrier island dynamics and the ecological role of estuaries; geological and climatic controls on coastal evolution; vascular plant succession and soil ecological processes on active dune systems; terrestrial ecology of coastal inlands; effects of coastal development and other human impacts on physical and ecological processes; and management issues in New England coastal systems.
Student learning outcomes
After taking this course, students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the geological and ecological history and dynamics of coastal ecosystems, using Cape Cod as a model system;

2. Perform field research techniques focused on coastal salt marsh restoration, coastal change monitoring, and integrating geological and ecological data;

3. Discuss and demonstrate understanding of various approaches to management of complex, linked human and natural systems;

4. Demonstrate understanding of education, research, outreach, and public awareness initiatives at various scales on Cape Cod;

5. Apply topics addressed and skills acquired on Cape Cod to other complex linked human and natural systems.

Required text
Oldale, R.N. 2001. Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket: The Geologic Story. On Cape Publications, Yarmouth Port, MA. Available online as a free .pdf at

Read this text in its entirety prior to the field component of the course.

Optional text
Strahler, A., 1988. A Geologist’s View of Cape Cod. Parnassus Books.

Although this text is optional, reading it before our trip will greatly enhance your learning in this course and appreciation of the geologic setting of Cape Cod. This book is out of print but is widely available at reasonable cost (<$15) through web outlets (;;, etc.). The book will also on reserve in the herbarium.

Additional required readings (posted in the “Required readings” folder in Resources in Sakai)
As I have not assigned an ecology textbook, these required readings provide you with important background information about the ecology of the various ecosystems we’ll be visiting on Cape Cod. In addition to posting them in Sakai, I will set up a print library in the herbarium of all required and many recommended readings, as well as additional print and map resources. Please use these materials freely, but use them in the herbarium only.
***Because this course runs early in the semester, it is essential that you prepare early for both the pre-trip and field components***
Donnelly, J., and M. Bertness. 2001. Rapid Shoreward Encroachment of Salt Marsh Cordgrass in Response to Accelerated Sea-Level Rise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 98(25): 14218-14223.
Holdredge, C., M. Bertness, and A. Altieri. 2008. Role of crab herbivory in die-off of New England salt marshes. Conservation Biology 23(3): 672-679.
Langley, J.A., K.L. McKee, D.R. Cahoon, J.A. Cherry, and J.P. Megonigal. 2009. Elevated CO2 stimulates marsh elevation gain, counterbalancing sea-level rise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 106(15):6182-6186.
Motzkin, G., W.A. Patterson III, and N.E.R. Drake. 1993. Fire history and vegetation dynamics of a Chamaecyparis thyoides* wetland on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. J. of Ecology 81(3):391-402.

*Atlantic white cedar. (We will be visiting the rare and beautiful Atlantic white cedar swamp on Cape Cod during our trip.)

Motzkin, G., R. Eberhardt, B. Hall, D.R. Foster, J. Harrod, and D. MacDonald. 2002. Vegetation variation across Cape Cod, Massachusetts: environmental and historical determinants. Journal of Biogeography 29:1439-1454.
Motzkin, G. and D.R. Foster. 2002. Grasslands, heathlands and shrublands in coastal New England: historical interpretations and approaches to conservation. J. of Biogeography 29:1569-1590.
Redfield, A., 1972. Development of a New England salt marsh. Ecological Monographs 42(2): 201-237. (This paper is dense and long, but it’s a classic; skim it for main concepts.)
Smith, S.M., M. Hanley, and K.T. Killingbeck. 2008. Development of vegetation in dune slack wetlands of Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts, USA). Plant Ecology 194:243-256.
Smith, S., 2009. Multi-decadal changes in salt marshes of Cape Cod, MA: photographic analyses of vegetation loss, species shifts, and geomorphic change. Northeastern Naturalist 16(2): 183-208.
Smith, S.M., K. Medeiros, and H. Bayley. 2011. Water temperature as a limiting factor in the colonization of a partially-restored coastal lagoon: Case study of a gastropod herbivore and control of macroalgae. Ecological Restoration 29(3):243-251.
Smith, S.M. and R.S. Warren. 2012. Vegetation Responses to Tidal Restoration. Chapter 5 (pp. 59-80) In: Tidal Marsh Restoration: A Synthesis of Science and Management, The Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration. C.T. Roman and D.M. Burdick (eds.), Island Press, Washington, DC.
Evaluation and verification
Your learning will be evaluated and verified through participation in and preparation for the pre-trip meeting, your positive contribution to a positive group learning experience, in-field discussion and exercises, and the following five course assignments, each described in detail below:
1. Presentation of background research (pre-trip meeting)

2. Landform or plant species overview (in field)

3. Small-group research (in field)

4. Final research presentation (post-trip)

4. Final research paper (post-trip)
Assignment 1: Presentation of background research (pre-trip)
The pre-trip meetings on September 18 and 25 are intended in part to orient you to Cape Cod National Seashore. In small groups, you will contribute to these class sessions by researching and teaching your colleagues about a broad topic relating to Cape Cod in presentations (≤ 20 min) at these two pre-trip meetings. Each of you should select your top three topic choices from the list below and post your choices to the folder titled “Pre-trip research choices” in Resources in Sakai no later than Friday, August 30. I will establish research groups based on your first and second choices, and will post the final research teams and topics to the same folder in Sakai no later than Tuesday, September 2.
Background research topics: pre-trip meetings
Paleoecology (trends, trajectories of postglacial ecological history of Cape Cod)

Geological history (physical origin and evolution of Cape Cod)

Terrestrial community ecology (forests, dunes, and/or heathlands)

Salt marsh ecology and restoration

History of land use on Cape Cod

Soil development and patterning on Cape Cod

Marine weather and climate affecting Cape Cod, including tides

Beach processes and coastal erosion

Other? Get a group together around a specific topic and run it by me
Assignment 2: Landform or plant species overview (in-field)
During the trip, we will visit several different field sites that have unique geological and ecological qualities. I have prepared lessons and enlisted the support of scientists, managers, and educators on Cape Cod. In addition, each of you, in pairs, will be responsible for learning about a specific landform or plant species, which you and your partner will teach us about in the field. Choose a landform or plant species from the list below, and be prepared to give a very brief (5-7 min) presentation about your topic on one of our trip days. Time limit will be strictly enforced.
Suggested landforms list (how formed, how to identify, relative stability and longevity)
Barrier island / barrier beach / spit

Barrier island breach

Marine scarp

Hanging valley


Tidal delta

Parabolic dune

Outwash plain / pitted outwash

Kettle / kame
Suggested plant species list (ecological niche, phenology, physiology, ecology, plant-soil interactions, other interesting characteristics)
Dune and other upland plants:

American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata)

Pitch pine (Pinus rigida)

Scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia)

Scotch broom (Cytisus sp.)

Poverty grass (Hudsonia tomentosa)

Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina)

Beach pea (Lathyrus maritimus)

Salt spray rose (Rosa rugosa)

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)

Beach plum (Prunus maritima)

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Lichen (Cladonia spp.) (not precisely a plant, but it’s an option because it’s all over the Province Lands sand dunes)
Salt marsh plants:

Salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)

Salt meadow grass (Spartina patens)

Glasswort (Salicornia spp.)

Seaside lavender (Limonium carolinianum)

Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima)

Atlantic sea blite (Sueda linearis)

Eelgrass (Zostera marina)

Giant reed grass (Phragmites australis) (not a salt marsh plant, but a persistent invasive exotic in CC salt marshes)
Assignment 3: Small-group research (some pre-trip, mostly in-field)
A central objective of this course is for you to integrate geological and ecological concepts as they are manifest on Cape Cod. For this assignment, in groups of 2-4 students, you will choose a geo-ecological setting, ecological system, or other environmental topic on Cape Cod to highlight in a long-term research project lasting through our post-trip meeting on October 23 and until the final paper is due on October 30. Small groups will be arranged at our first pre-trip meeting based upon your respective interests so you can begin to gather and review resources prior to the trip; some of your research for this project and presentation will occur on our last afternoon on the Cape. You will then give a 30-35 minute presentation about your research topic at our post-trip meeting, as well as turn in a final research paper (15-20 pages double-spaced) that explores your research topic in greater depth. Although you will have several hours to work on your research on Tuesday afternoon (Oct 1), your group should be thinking about the content and organization of your research before we go to Cape Cod, so you have sufficient time to set up meetings in the field with land managers, ecologists, and educators, and to access other resources you need while in the field.
Examples topics/issues for small-group research projects:

Cape Wind project / other renewable energy projects on Cape Cod

Coastal erosion and climate change (multi-scale/topic)

Monomoy coastal processes, ecosystem dynamics, and land management issues

Cape Cod hydrology and water resource issues

Fire ecology and management

Terrestrial ecosystem management and restoration (e.g., dunes, heathlands)

Environmental education outreach programs/issues

Aquaculture / shellfishing

Marine fisheries ecology and management

Other? Get a group together around a specific topic and run it by me
Assignment 4: Final presentation of small-group research (post-trip meeting, October 23)
Our post-trip meeting will be dedicated to your research presentations. Your group should prepare an engaging presentation that draws upon and ties together in-field class material and your supplemental group research. My expectation is that this presentation will demonstrate greater depth of understanding, knowledge, and skills by taking our in-field course content further. I will determine the length of presentations later in the course once I know how many groups we have.
Assignment 5: Final paper about small-group research (due post-trip, October 30)
The final research paper is due on October 30, one week after our post-trip meeting. This paper should be a group effort, and should reflect the depth and breadth of your group research project as it both explores, synthesizes, and expands our in-field course content. The paper should be 15-20 pages double-spaced, 12-point font, and referenced appropriately in a citation style of your choice.
If You Have Learning Disabilities or Special Needs 

In accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and simple justice and decency, AUNE does not exclude or discriminate against otherwise qualified students with disabilities. Students with physical or learning disabilities, which are diagnosed by a qualified professional and disclosed to the Student Disability Services Coordinator, may request and receive reasonable accommodations that will allow them to participate in their graduate program fully. If you have a documented learning disability, need special accommodation to optimize your learning, and/or need special accommodation for any class activity, please talk with the instructor as soon as possible.  This information will remain confidential.  For more information, please contact Leatrice Oram, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs at 603-283-2128 or by email at

Field schedule: September 28-October 2, 2013
September 28 (Saturday)

Depart from ANE for Cape Cod at 8:00 am – Arrive on Cape Cod by 12:00pm

12:00-1:00pm: Lunch at Box Lunch, Wellfleet

1:30-3:00pm: NPS Salt Pond Visitor Center, self guided orientation to CC National Seashore

3:00-5:30: drop/organize personal gear at National Park Service housing, make dinner

5:30-7:00: Dinner at Coast Guard Beach NEED Building, park orientation visit with CACO Chief of National Resources

September 29 (Sunday)

7:00-8:00am: Breakfast and pack lunches at NEED Building

8:30am-12:00pm: Geoecology of active and stabilized parabolic dunes: Province Lands, Race Point Visitor Center; some plant presentations

12:00-1:00pm: Lunch at Race Point

1:45-5:00pm: Monitoring / measuring shorezone change: Coast Guard Beach, Eastham bay-side beaches; some landform presentations

7:00pm: Dinner at Coast Guard Beach NEED Building

September 30 (Monday)

7:00-8:00am: Breakfast and pack lunches at Coast Guard Beach NEED Building

8:30-12:00am: Salt marsh ecology and restoration: East Harbor and Herring River, Heather Conkerton, ESMS CB student, and Dr. Steve Smith, CACO Plant Ecologist; some plant presentations

12:00-2:30pm: Lunch and a little free time at Great Island

3:00-5:00pm: Shellfish culturing and restoration: Salt Pond, visit with Peter Carlow, Town of Eastham Department of Natural Resources Officer

5:30pm: Dinner at Land Ho!, Orleans

Evening fire on Coast Guard Beach
October 1 (Tuesday)

7:00-8:00am: Breakfast and pack lunches at Coast Guard Beach NEED Building

8:30am-12:00: Stabilized terrestrial coastal systems: Atlantic White Cedar swamp and heathlands restoration at CACO Marconi HQ, Erin Hilley, ESMS CB student, and David Crary, CACO Fire Management Officer

12:00-1:00pm: Lunch at Marconi HQ overlook

1:30-7:00pm: Small-group research project time

7:00: Dinner at NEED Building, Chef Rachel

October 2 (Wednesday)

Breakfast, pack, clean NEED Building, and free time on beach

Depart CC at 11:00am, return to ANE approximately 3:00pm
Equipment list
Autumn weather on the Cape is variable, so keep this in mind when packing your equipment and clothing. Plan for a variety of conditions, and dress to avoid Lyme-carrying deer ticks, e.g., pack long pants that you can tuck into your boots.
Warm sleeping bag

Sleeping pad (Thermarest, Ridgerest)


Clothes for 45-65°F weather


Warm jacket/fleece

Light gloves

Insect repellent

Hiking boots/shoes

Hip waders (yes, you will need them; please feel free to borrow from the herbarium)

Waterproof knee boots (yes, you will need them; please feel free to borrow from the herbarium)

Water shoes or sandals

Sun hat and sunscreen



Field guides


Field notebook

Required readings and supplemental resources

Food for special dietary needs

Personal snacks for long field days
Recommended supplemental readings
These supplemental readings may help with your pre-trip and in-field research projects. They are not posted in Sakai; obtain these papers on your own and contact me if you have trouble finding anything.
Bertness, M.D., C. Holdredge, and A.H. Altieri. 2009. Substrate mediates consumer control of salt marsh cordgrass on Cape Cod, New England. Ecology 90(8):2108-2117.
Bertness, M.D. 1999. The Ecology of Atlantic Shorelines. Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, MA.
Buchsbaum, R.N., J. Catena, E. Hutchins, and M. James-Pirri. 2006. Changes in salt marsh vegetation, Phragmites australis, and nekton in response to tidal flushing in a New England salt marsh. Wetlands 26(2):544-557.
DiGregorio, M.J. and J. Wallner. 1989. Cape Cod Wildflowers: A Vanishing Heritage. University Press of New England, Hanover and London.
Donelly, J., 2006. A Revised Late Holocene Sea-Level Record for Northern Massachusetts, USA. Journal of Coastal Research 22(5):1051-1061.
Eberhardt, R.W., D.R. Foster, G. Motzkin, and B. Hall. 2003. Conservation of changing landscapes: vegetation and land-use history of Cape Cod National Seashore. Ecological Applications 13(1): 68-84.
Fagherazzi, S., R. Torres, C. Hopkinson, and D. Van Proosdu. 2005. Salt marsh geomorphology: physical and ecological effects on landform. Geophysical Union, EOS Transactions 86(6):57-58 (February 6, 2005).
Feagin, R.A., D.J. Sherman, and W.E. Grant. 2005. Coastal erosion, global sea-level rise, and the loss of sand dune plant habitats. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 3(7): 359-364.
Finch, R. 1986. Outlands: Journeys to the Outer Edges of Cape Cod. David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston, MA.
Foster, D.R. and G. Motzkin. 2003. Interpreting and conserving the openland habitats of coastal New England: insights from landscape history. Forest Ecology and Management 185:127-150.
Gates, D.A., E. Norman, and M. Norman. 1975. Seasons of the Salt Marsh. The Chatham Press, Old Greenwich, CT.
Gerhardt, F. and D.R. Foster. 2002. Physiographical and historical effects on forest vegetation in central New England, USA. J. of Biogeography 29:1421-1437.
Gosner, K.L. 1978. Peterson Field Guide: Atlantic Seashore from the Bay of Fundy to Cape Hatteras. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
MacQuarrie, B. 2009. In Chatham, an austere utopia yields to a relentless tide. Boston Globe (June 25, 2009). Available online at:
Mulligan, A. and E. Uchupi. 2003. New Interpretations of glacial history of Cape Cod may have important implications for groundwater contaminant transport. American Geophysical Union, EOS Transactions 84(19):177-188 (May 13, 2003).
Neill, C., W.A. Patterson III, and D.W. Crary, Jr. 2007. Responses of soil carbon, nitrogen, and cations to the frequency and seasonality of prescribed burning in a Cape Cod oak-pine forest. Forest Ecology and Management 250:234-243.
NH Dept of Environmental Services Coastal Program. 2005. Life in NH Salt Marshes: A Quick-Reference Field Guide. Available online at:
Parshall, T., D.R. Foster, E. Faison, D. MacDonald, and B.C.S. Hansen. 2003. Long-term history of vegetation and fire in pitch pine-oak forests on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Ecology 84(3):736-748.
Roman, C.T. and D.M. Burdick, editors. 2013. Tidal Marsh Restoration: A Synthesis of Science and Management, The Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration. Island Press, Washington, DC.
Smith, S.M., R.M.M. Abed, and F. Garcia-Pichel. 2004. Biological soil crusts of sand dunes in Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts, USA. Microbial Ecology 48:200-208.
Teal, J. and M. Teal. 1971. Life and Death of the Salt Marsh. Ballantine Books, NY.
Thoreau, H.D. 1865. Cape Cod. Penguin Books, NY.
Tiner Jr., R. W. and A. Rorer. 1987. A Field Guide to Coastal Wetland Plants of the Northeastern United States. Cushing-Malloy.
USGS. 2002. Vulnerability of U.S. National Parks to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Change. USGS Fact Sheet FS-095-02 (September 2002).

Williams, E. 2006. Mung Warrior: National Seashore researchers take a look at a yucky seaweed problem. Cape Cod Times (July 6, 2006): page A-12.

Winkler, M.G. and P.R. Sanford. 1995. Coastal Massachusetts pond development: edaphic, climatic, and sea level impacts since deglaciation. J. of Paleolimnology 14:311-336.
Web Resources
The following links will take you to resources that will familiarize you with Cape Cod, and with the various scientific, educational, and conservation programs currently underway there.
NPS Cape Cod National Seashore (CACO)
In-depth CACO resource / research pages (links to ongoing research and monitoring protocols)
All recent CACO Research and Monitoring reports
NPS Atlantic Learning Center (research needs and opportunities in CACO)
Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)

Sea Grant Program – links to regional coastal and estuarine research

Emergency contact numbers:

Rachel Thiet cell: 603-903-0506*

Cape Cod National Seashore: 508-349-3785

*Please have friends and loved ones call my cell in case of emergency, and use the other number only if I do not answer my phone

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