, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 673-681

Patterns of Plant Diversity in Georgia and Texas Salt Marshes

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Abstract

A fundamental question in ecology is how biological interactions and biogeographic processes interact to determine the biodiversity of local sites. We quantified patterns of plant species diversity on transects across elevation at 59 salt marsh sites in Georgia and 49 sites in Texas. Although these regions have similar climates and floras, we anticipated that diversity might differ because of differences in tidal regime. Diversity was measured at global, regional, site, and plot scales to consider processes occurring at all levels. Species pools were similar between regions. Texas had greater diversity at the site and plot scales, suggesting that processes occurring at the site scale differed. The greater diversity of Texas sites and plots was associated with wider distributions of individual species across the marsh landscape and proportionally more middle marsh (a high diversity zone) and less low marsh (a low diversity zone) than in Georgia marshes. Preliminary data suggested that these differences were not due to differences in salinity regime or standing biomass between regions, leaving differences in tidal regime as the most plausible hypothesis accounting for differences in plant diversity. We speculate that the less-predictable tidal regime in Texas leads to temporal variation in abiotic conditions that limit the ability of any one species to competitively exclude others from particular marsh zones.