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Shade and salinity responses of two dominant coastal wetland grasses: implications for light competition at the transition zone

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BACKGROUND: Coastal wetlands are threatened by the increased salinity that may result from sea level rise. Salinity stress alters species zonation patterns through changes in competitive outcome between species differing in salinity tolerance. This study therefore aimed to understand how salinity and light affects two dominant and competing coastal wetland grasses that differ in salt tolerance, height and photosynthetic metabolism.

METHODS: The C4 species Spartina anglica and the C3 species Phragmites australis were grown at 5 salinity levels (0, 7, 14, 21 and 28 ppt) and two light fluxes (100% and 50% of natural daylight) in an outdoor experimental setup for 102 days with full access to nutrients.

KEY RESULTS: Salinity reduced the biomass, height and shoot density of P. australis from 81.7 gDW, 0.73 m and 37 shoots per pot at salinity 0 ppt to 16.8 gDW, 0.3 m and 14 shoots per pot at salinity 28 ppt. Biomass, height and shoot density of S. anglica did not respond or were only slightly reduced at the highest salinity of 28 ppt. High salinity also resulted in higher tissue concentration of N and P in P. australis. Both species had low ability to acclimate to the lower light flux. Shade acclimation in S. anglica occurred via modest changes in specific leaf area (SLA), pigment content and biomass allocation.

CONCLUSIONS: High salinity reduced traits important for light competition and increased the nutrient concentration in P. australis leaf and root biomass, while this was overall unaffected in S. anglica. This is likely to reduce the competitive ability of P. australis over S. anglica for light because at high salinities the former cannot effectively shade the lower-growing S. anglica. Neither species effectively acclimates to shade, which could explain why S. anglica does not occur in the understory of P. australis at low salinities.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of Botany
Volume128
Issue4
Pages (from-to)469–480
Number of pages12
ISSN0305-7364
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Annals of Botany Company. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.

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