, Volume 90, Issue 2, pp 93-107

Plant community structure in an oligohaline tidal marsh

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Abstract

An oligohaline tidal marsh on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, LA was characterized with respect to the distributions and abundances of plant species over spatial and temporal gradients using Detrended Correspondence Analysis (DCA). In addition, the species distributions were correlated to several physical environmental factors using Detrended Canonical Correspondence Analysis (DCCA). The distributions of species were best correlated with distance from Lake Pontchartrain, and to a lesser extent with elevation and substrate organic matter. They were least correlated with mean soil salinity (referred to here as background salinity). Of the three mid-seasonal dominant species, the perennial grass, Spartina patens, is the most salt tolerant and was found closest to the lake. Further inland the dominant perennial was Sagittaria lancifolia, which has a salt tolerance less than that of Spartina patens. The perennial sedge, Cladium jamaicense, which is the least salt tolerant of the three, was dominant furthest inland. Background salinity levels were generally low (<5 ppt.) and did not explain species distributions. We hypothesize that the distribution of species is regulated by occasional storm-generated ‘salt pulses’ that generate strong, short-lived salinity gradients as a function of distance from the lake. Biotic interactions likely also play a role in structuring the plant community. The distributions of several annuals depended on the size and life history of the mid-seasonal dominant perennials. Most of the annuals frequently co-occurred with Sagittaria lancifolia, which was the shortest in stature and had the least persistent canopy of the three mid-seasonal dominant perennials.