Root respiration and oxygen flux in salt marsh grasses from different elevational zones
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Plants growing in waterlogged environments are subjected to low oxygen levels around submerged tissues. While internal oxygen transport has been postulated as an important factor governing flooding tolerance, respiration rates and abilities to take up oxygen under hypoxic conditions have been largely ignored in plant studies. In this study, physiological characteristics related to internal oxygen transport, respiration, and oxygen affinity were studied in low intertidal marsh species (Spartina alterniflora and S. anglica) and middle to high intertidal species (S. densiflora, S. patens, S. foliosa, a S. alterniflora × S. foliosa hybrid, S. spartinae, and Distichlis spicata). These marsh plants were compared to the inland species S. pectinata and the crop species rice (Oryza sativa), corn (Zea mays), and oat (Avena sativa). Plants were grown in a greenhouse under simulated estuarine conditions. The low marsh species S. anglica was found to transport oxygen internally at rates up to 2.2 μmol O2 g fresh root weight−1 h−1. In contrast, marsh species from higher zones and crop species were found to transport significantly less oxygen internally, although rice plants were able to transport 1.4 μmol g−1 h−1. Under hypoxic conditions, low marsh species were better able to remove dissolved oxygen from the medium compared to higher marsh species and crops. The oxygen concentration at which respiration rates declined due to limited oxygen (Pcrit) was significantly lower in low marsh species compared to inland and crop species; Pcrit ranged from <4 μM O2 in the low marsh species S. anglica up to 20 μM in the inland species corn. Flooding-sensitive crop species had significantly higher aerobic respiration rates compared to flooding-tolerant species in this study. Crop species took up 3.6–6.7 μmol O2 g−1 h−1 while all but one marsh species took up <3.5 μmol O2 g−1 h−1. We conclude that oxygen transport, aerobic demand, and oxygen affinity all play important and interrelated roles in flood tolerance and salt marsh zonation.