Research Themes

Building the scientific foundation for community efforts to protect coastal watersheds

The Wells Reserve research program focuses on Maine’s southwest coast from the Kennebec to the Piscataqua River, with emphasis between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth. Through collaborations, we extend the reach of our science throughout the Northeast and the nation.

Focal Areas

Our research focuses in three general areas:

  • Salt Marsh Habitats
  • Fish, Shellfish, and Birds
  • Salt Marsh Restoration

Read about these topics below.

Salt Marsh Habitats

Through long-term monitoring and deliberate surveys, we and our collaborators are characterizing New England salt marsh habitats, documenting their history, and preparing for their management in an uncertain future.

How sustainable are salt marshes, both healthy and recovering, in the face of sea level rise? Will the vigor of salt marsh plants, the rate of peat formation, and opportunities to migrate into new areas allow them to persist?

Our staff and visiting scientists explore nutrient/plant relations, plant community responses to disturbance, and the effects of short-term natural events and human activities on sediment accretion and erosion.

Fish, Shellfish, and Birds

We have amassed years of data on the animals that depend upon salt marshes, or that live in the upland habitats of the Wells Reserve. Our larval fish and migratory fish surveys have produced excellent data on how fish use coastal watersheds.

Salt Marsh Restoration

The Wells Reserve studies the impact of tidal restriction on salt marshes and the response of salt marshes to tidal restoration.

Salt marsh ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine sustained themselves in the face of sea-level rise and other natural disturbances for nearly 5,000 years. Since colonial times large areas of salt marsh have been lost through diking, draining, and filling.

Today, the remaining marshland is fairly well protected from outright destruction, but during the past 100 years, and especially since the 1950s, salt marshes have been divided into fragments by roads, causeways, culverts, and tide gates. Tidal flow to most of these fragments is severely restricted, leading to chronic habitat degradation and greatly reduced access for fish and other marine species.