Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Sparks, Eric

Committee Member

Cebrian, Just

Committee Member

Linhoss, Anna

Committee Member

Skarke, Adam

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Forest Resources

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Forest Resources


Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture


Coastal restoration has become a necessary and ubiquitous practice to enhance and conserve the many ecosystem services lost by marsh degradation. Wave climate is one of the most critical factors to consider for restoration projects. However, knowledge of the ways that waves affect marsh plants and the ecosystem services they provide is limited. The purpose of my dissertation was to improve the effectiveness of coastal marsh restoration by addressing the limitations and gaps associated with plant and ecosystem responses to waves through empirical research with three primary goals: 1) develop and test a low-cost wave gauge, 2) use it to compare above- and below-ground plant growth responses along a wave climate gradient, and 3) evaluate the effects of waves on nutrient removal in constructed marshes. I used three field and laboratory experiments to accomplish these goals. The low-cost wave gauge was developed using an Arduino microcontroller and various accessories. After development, the gauge was evaluated against a commercial gauge in a series of laboratory and field tests. Comparisons revealed over 90% agreement between the gauges and confirmed the applicability of the low-cost gauge. A total of thirty gauges were then constructed and deployed at sites within Mobile Bay, Alabama and surrounding tributaries. In addition to wave energy, plant data was also collected at each site, including above- and below-ground biomass, shoot density, height, and diameter. These data suggested that waves affect plant growth responses in ways not explained by the current plant response paradigm. For example, while greater diameter shoots best attenuate waves, shoot diameter declined with greater wave exposure in this study. This response was common among the study species. Other plant responses were species-specific. Finally, a field experiment was constructed to examine the main and interactive effects of sediment type, initial planting density, platform slope, and platform position at sites exposed to and protected from waves. Results from this experiment suggested that waves may potentially mitigate the effective removal potential of constructed marshes. Taken together, this dissertation advances research on plant responses to waves and provides new tools for land managers working on coastal restoration and conservation projects.