Lacunal allocation and gas transport capacity in the salt marsh grass Spartina alterniflora
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Lacunal allocation as the fraction of the total cross sectional area of leaves, stem bases, rhizomes, and roots was determined in both tall and short growth forms of Spartina alterniflora collected from natural monospecific stands. The results indicate that in both growth forms lacunal allocation is greater in stem bases and rhizomes than in leaves and roots and that tall form plants allocate more of their stem and rhizome to lacunae than short form plants.
Measurements made in natural stands of Spartina alterniflora suggest that total lacunal area of the stem base increases with increasing stem diameter and that stem diameter increases with increasing plant height and above-ground biomass. However, the fraction of cross section allocated to lacunae was relatively constant and increased only with the formation of a central lacuna.
Experimental manipulations of surface and subsurface water exchange were carried out to test the influence of flooding regime on aerenchyma formation. No significant differences in lacunal allocation were detected between plants grown in flooded (reduced) and drained (oxidized) sediments in either laboratory or field experiments. While aerenchyma formation in Spartina alterniflora may be an adaptation to soil waterlogging/anoxia, our results suggest that lacunal formation is maximized as a normal part of development with allocation constrained structurally by the size of plants in highly organic New England and Mid-Atlantic marshes.
The cross sectional area of aerenchyma for gas transport was found to be related to the growth of Spartina alterniflora with stands of short form Spartina alterniflora exhibiting a lower specific gas transport capacity (lacunal area per unit below ground biomass) than tall form plants despite having a similar below-ground biomass supported by a 10 fold higher culm density. The increased specific gas transport capacity in tall vs. short plants may provide a new mechanism to explain the better aeration, higher nutrient uptake rates and lower frequency of anaerobic respiration in roots of tall vs. short Spartina alterniflora.
Key wordsAerenchyma Gas transport Salt marsh Spartina alterniflora
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