, Volume 184, Issue 3, pp 729–737 | Cite as

Halophytes can salinize soil when competing with glycophytes, intensifying effects of sea level rise in coastal communities

  • Kristie S. WendelbergerEmail author
  • Jennifer H. Richards
Global change ecology - original research


Sea level rise (SLR) and land-use change are working together to change coastal communities around the world. Along Florida’s coast, SLR and large-scale drying are increasing groundwater salinity, resulting in halophytic (salt-tolerant) species colonizing glycophytic (salt-intolerant) communities. We hypothesized that halophytes can contribute to increased soil salinity as they move into glycophyte communities, making soils more saline than SLR or drying alone. We tested our hypothesis with a replacement-series greenhouse experiment with halophyte/glycophyte ratios of 0:4, 1:3, 2:2, 3:1, 4:0, mimicking halophyte movement into glycophyte communities. We subjected replicates to 0, 26, and 38‰ salinity for one, one, and three months, respectively, taking soil salinity and stomatal conductance measurements at the end of each treatment period. Our results showed that soil salinity increased as halophyte/glycophyte ratio increased. Either osmotic or ionic stress caused decreases in glycophyte biomass, resulting in less per-plant transpiration as compared to halophytes. At 38‰ groundwater, soil salinity increased as halophyte density increased, making conditions more conducive to further halophyte establishment. This study suggests that coastal plant community turnover may occur faster than would be predicted from SLR and anthropogenic disturbance alone.


Competition Soil salinity Climate change Coastal vegetation shifts Ecosystem engineer 



This project was funded by the National Park Service George Melendez Wright Climate Change Fellowship, Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program, National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program, the Florida International University Doctoral Evidence Acquisition Fellowship, and the Florida International University Dissertation Year Fellowship. We thank Drs. S. Oberbauer, M. Ross, E. von Wettberg, and L. Scinto for their edits and comments on this manuscript. We greatly appreciate Dr. S. Zona, Curator of the Florida International University Wertheim Conservatory, for his help ordering supplies and providing greenhouse space for the experiment. We thank D. Johnson for coordinating the use of the conductivity meter. We thank field technicians J. Alvarez, J. Hernandez, and N. Sebesta and volunteers B. Barrios, A. Luna, D. Nunez, M. Rose, A. Valdesuso, and A. Zambraro for their hard work putting this experiment together and helping us bring it to fruition.

Author contribution statement

KSW conceived, designed, and performed the research, analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript. JHR contributed to the research design and data analysis and edited the manuscript.

Supplementary material

442_2017_3896_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3154 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Everglades FoundationPalmetto BayUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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