Research ProjectLand Use Effects on SAV

Effects of Land Use and Shoreline Armoring on Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV)

fish in eelgrass bed

Beds of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) are critical habitat for many coastal species. (Photo: NOAA)

Affiliated Labs

Project Goal

We want to understand how land use, especially shoreline armoring, affects underwater plants (submerged aquatic vegetation).


Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) serves many important functions in estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay.  SAV beds are habitat for crabs, fish, and waterfowl; and SAV beds can stabilize sediment, reduce erosion, and help to clarify the water.  SAV plants need light to grow and reproduce, so they suffer in murky water. Some land-use activities can reduce water clarity by releasing sediment into the water or by releasing nutrients that promote the growth of algae.  Both sediment and algae can block the light that SAV need. Shoreline armoring can increase wave energy near the shoreline to stir up sediment or even uproot SAV. We integrate maps of SAV, land use, and shoreline modification with statistical models to quantify where SAV is most abundant and how the abundance of SAV relates to human activity. We have shown that SAV is more abundant near forested land and less abundant near agricultural or developed land. Shoreline armoring with bulkheads or riprap can reduce adjacent SAV abundance, especially in the southern parts of the Bay.  By understanding how human activities affect SAV, we can make better decisions to protect and restore these valuable plants.

Lefcheck, Jonathan S., Orth, Robert J., Dennison, William C., Wilcox, David J., Murphy, Rebecca R., Keisman, Jennifer, Gurbisz, Cassie, Hannam, Michael, Landry, J. B., Moore, Kenneth A., Patrick, Christopher J., Testa, Jeremy, Weller, Donald E. and Batiuk, Richard A. 2018. Long-term nutrient reductions lead to the unprecedented recovery of a temperate coastal regionProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of Americadoi:10.1073/pnas.1715798115.

Jordan, Thomas E., Weller, Donald E. and Pelc, Carey E. 2017. Effects of Local Watershed Land Use on Water Quality in Mid-Atlantic Coastal Bays and Subestuaries of the Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries and Coasts:1-16. doi:10.1007/s12237-017-0303-5.

Orth , R. J., W. C. Dennison, J. S. Lefcheck, C. Gurbisz, M. P. Hannam, J. Keisman, J. B. Landry, K. A. Moore, R. R. Murphy, C. J. Patrick, J. M. Testa, D. E. Weller, and D. J. Wilcox. 2017. Submersed aquatic vegetation in Chesapeake Bay: sentinel species in a changing world. Bioscience 67:698-712. doi:10.1093/biosci/bix058

Kornis, Matthew S., Breitburg, Denise, Balouskus, Richard, Bilkovic, Donna M., Davias, Lori A., Giordano, Steve, Heggie, Keira, Hines, Anson H., Jacobs, John M., Jordan, Thomas E., King, Ryan S., Patrick, Christopher J., Seitz, Rochelle D., Soulen, Heather, Targett, Timothy E., Weller, Donald E., Whigham, Dennis F. and Uphoff, Jim. 2017. Linking the Abundance of Estuarine Fish and Crustaceans in Nearshore Waters to Shoreline Hardening and Land CoverEstuaries and Coasts, 40(5): 1464-1486. doi:10.1007/s12237-017-0213-6

Patrick, Christopher J., Weller, Donald E., Orth, Robert J., Wilcox, David J. and Hannam, Michael P. 2017. Land Use and Salinity Drive Changes in SAV Abundance and Community Composition. Estuaries and Coasts, : 1-16. doi:10.1007/s12237-017-0250-1

Patrick, Christopher J., Weller, Donald E. and Ryder, Micah. 2016. The Relationship Between Shoreline Armoring and Adjacent Submerged Aquatic Vegetation in Chesapeake Bay and Nearby Atlantic Coastal Bays. Estuaries and Coasts, 39(1): 158-170. doi:10.1007/s12237-015-9970-2

Sciance, M. Benjamin, Patrick, Christopher J., Weller, Donald E., Williams, Meghan N., McCormick, Melissa K. and Hazelton, Eric L. G. 2016. Local and regional disturbances associated with the invasion of Chesapeake Bay marshes by the common reed Phragmites australisBiological Invasions, 18(9): 2661-2677. doi:10.1007/s10530-016-1136-z

Patrick, Christopher J. and Weller, Donald E. 2015. Interannual variation in submerged aquatic vegetation and its relationship to water quality in subestuaries of Chesapeake Bay. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 537: 121-135. doi:10.3354/meps11412

Patrick, Christopher J., Weller, Donald E., Li, Xuyong and Ryder, Micah. 2014. Effects of Shoreline Alteration and Other Stressors on Submerged Aquatic Vegetation in Subestuaries of Chesapeake Bay and the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Bays. Estuaries and Coasts, 37(6): 1516-1531. doi:10.1007/s12237-014-9768-7

Luckenbach, Mark, Wainger, Lisa, Weller, Donald E., Bell, Susan, Fonseca, Mark, Heck, Ken, Neckles, Hilary, Smart, Mike and Pickerell, Chris. 2011. Evaluation of the Effectiveness of SAV Restoration Approaches in the Chesapeake Bay Chesapeake Research Consortium, Inc.. (STAC Publication; ) 31 pages.. Journal of Hydrology, 380(3-4): 277-288. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2009.11.003

Li, Xuyong, Weller, Donald E., Gallegos, Charles L., Jordan, Thomas E. and Kim, Hae-Cheol. 2007. Effects of watershed and estuarine characteristics on the abundance of submerged aquatic vegetation in Chesapeake Bay subestuaries. Estuaries and Coasts, 30: 840-854. doi:10.1007/BF02841338.