Biological Invasions

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 221-231

First online:

Spread of Exotic Cordgrasses and Hybrids (Spartina sp.) in the Tidal Marshes of San Francisco Bay, California, USA

  • Debra R. AyresAffiliated withEvolution and Ecology, University of California Email author 
  • , Debra L. SmithAffiliated withInvasive Spartina Project, California Coastal Conservancy
  • , Katy ZarembaAffiliated withInvasive Spartina Project, California Coastal Conservancy
  • , Shannon KlohrAffiliated withInvasive Spartina Project, California Coastal Conservancy
  • , Donald R. StrongAffiliated withEvolution and Ecology, University of California

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Four species of exotic cordgrass (Spartina sp.) occur in the San Francisco estuary in addition to the California native Spartina foliosa. Our goal was to map the location and extent of all non-native Spartina in the estuary. Hybrids of S. alterniflora and S. foliosa are by far the most numerous exotic and are spreading rapidly. Radiating from sites of deliberate introduction, S. alterniflora and hybrids now cover ca. 190 ha, mainly in the South and Central Bay. Estimates of rate of aerial increase range from a constant value to an accelerating rate of increase. This could be due to the proliferation of hybrid clones capable of rapid expansion and having superior seed set and siring abilities. The total coverage of 195 ha by hybrids and other exotic cordgrass species is slightly less than 1% of the Bay's tidal mudflats and marshes. Spartina anglica has not spread beyond its original 1970s introduction site. Spartina densiflora has spread to cover over 5 ha at 3 sites in the Central Bay. Spartina patens has expanded from 2 plants in 1970 to 42 plants at one site in Suisun Bay. Spartina seed floats on the tide, giving it the potential to export this invasion throughout the San Francisco estuary, and to estuaries outside of the Golden Gate. We found isolated plants of S. alterniflora and S. densiflora in outer coast estuaries north of the Bay suggesting the likelihood for the San Francisco Bay populations to found others on the Pacific coast.

hybridization invasive Spartina Spartina alterniflora Spartina anglica Spartina densiflora Spartina foliosa Spartina patens