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Title: Interspecific Competition is Prevalent and Stabilizes Plant Production in a Brackish Marsh Facing Sea Level Rise
Tidal marsh plant species commonly zonate along environmental gradients such as elevation, but it is not always clear to what extent plant distribution is driven by abiotic factors vs. biotic interactions. Yet, the distinction has importance for how plant communities will respond to future change such as higher sea level, particularly given the distinct flooding tolerances and contributions to elevation gain of different species. We used observations from a 33-year experiment to determine co-occurrence patterns for the sedge, Schoenoplectus americanus, and two C4 grasses, Spartina patens and Distichlis spicata, to infer functional group interactions. Then, we conducted a functional group removal experiment to directly assess the interaction between sedge and grasses throughout the range in which they cooccur. The observational record suggested negative interactions between sedge and grasses across sedge- and grass-dominated plots, though the relationship weakened in years with greater flooding stress. The removal experiment revealed mutual release effects, indicating competition was the predominant interaction, and here, too, competition tended to weaken, though nonsignificantly, in more flooded, lower elevation zones. Whereas zonation patterns in undisturbed portions of marsh suggest that the sedge will dominate this marsh as flooding stress increases with sea level rise, we propose that grasses may more » exhibit a competition release effect and contribute to biomass and elevation gain even in sedge-dominated communities as sea level continues to rise. Even as abiotic stresses drive changes in the relative contributions of sedges and grasses, competition among them moderates fluctuations in total plant biomass production through time. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
2051343
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10314484
Journal Name:
Estuaries and Coasts
ISSN:
1559-2723
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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