by Eliza, 10th Grade, Coastal Studies for Girls
A mud flat is always a fun place to work. You can get your hands dirty and surround yourself in the smell of decomposition. It is an environment that only true nature-lovers can appreciate. However, there is more to a mud flat than being smelly and dirty.
From first glance, a mud flat looks like an infertile, dead environment. In reality, it is nutrient rich and productive, which provides a unique environment for life. Mud flats are inhabited by microscopic organisms as well as clams, worms, snails and bird species. It also has a very interesting relationship with the tides. The entire food cycle changes based on the current tide. For example, at low tide, birds are the primary predators, while at low tide, fish and crabs dominate as predators. They essentially feed on the same organisms, but it is fascinating to see that the dynamics of the ecosystem change every six hours.
There are also many physical consequences of living in such an unstable habitat. Many species are dependent on the currents. When the current moves slowly, the nutrients from the water deposit into the mudflat. This causes the mud flats to be extremely rich in nutrients. However, when the current is moving quickly, the mud flat erodes, causing a loss of habitat. In addition, in winter, the movement of ice on the mud flat can be devastating to the structure of the mudflat. Entire sections get wiped out and their respective organisms are washed to sea, where they may not be able to sustain themselves.
Due to the thick environment of mud, many organisms rely on filter feeding to gain nutrients. Bivalves and other Mollusks live mostly within the sediment, and pick out their food from the water to eat. Species that live in the mud must have a way to reach the surface to reach water or air. Many have necks that can burrow up through the mud to reach the air they breathe. Worms can burrow holes in the mud in order to reach the air or water. The burrowing adaptation is extremely important to the mudflat ecosystem. If these organisms could not access food in the water, or oxygen in the air, there would be no way such life could exist in a mud flat.
Next time you see a mud flat, whether you enjoy the smells and feelings or not, think about all the unexpected life that it supports. Mud flats abound with the infants of the sea, creating a solidly unique environment for these organisms
Lawlor, Elizabeth P. Discovery Nature at the Seashore. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1992.
Bertness, Mark D. Atlantic Shorelines: Natural History and Ecology. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.