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Growth of common brackish marsh macrophytes under altered hydrology and salinity regimes

November 12, 2015

Coastal marsh plants are increasingly subject to physicochemical stressors under rising sea levels, and the maintenance of marsh ecological functions can depend on the ability of individual species and communities to tolerate or adapt to altered conditions. We conducted a greenhouse experiment to identify hydrology and salinity effects on growth of three common brackish marsh macrophytes of coastal Florida, USA: Distichlis spicata, Juncus roemerianus, and Spartina bakeri. The species were potted as monocultures and exposed to three salinities (0, 15, or 28 psu) and two hydrologic conditions (saturated, tidal) over 22 months. Final stem density of J. roemerianus and S. bakeri did not differ among treatments. In D. spicata, however, stem density was lowest at 28 psu and lower in tidal compared to saturated conditions. Mean stem height of all species was lowest at 28 psu. Aboveground biomass of J. roemerianus was not affected by the treatments, but in D. spicata andS. bakeri it was lowest at 28 psu. Results indicated that J. roemerianus was the most adaptable species and may, therefore, be more resilient to climate-change driven stressors. However, plant-plant interactions such as interspecific competition and facilitation can alter the response of individual species to environmental factors.