, Volume 188, Issue 2, pp 607–622 | Cite as

Water sources of plant uptake along a salt marsh flooding gradient

  • Regine RedelsteinEmail author
  • Heinz Coners
  • Alexander Knohl
  • Christoph Leuschner
Ecosystem ecology – original research


Salt marsh plants are affected by regular tidal inundation exposing them to saline water as a potential water source. This study aimed at quantifying the water uptake of plants depending on their distance from the sea and exploring plant responses to changing inundation regimes. We used stable isotope ratios (δ18O) to determine the proportions of seawater and precipitation water used by three salt marsh species (Spartina anglica, Atriplex portulacoides and Elytrigia atherica) from a German North Sea coast salt marsh. Additionally, A. portulacoides was transplanted to experimental islands at three elevation levels to investigate its plasticity in water use in the course of future sea level rise. We found a marked gradient in plant seawater use from the lowermost pioneer zone (79–98% seawater uptake by S. anglica) to the lower marsh (61–95% by A. portulacoides) and the upper marsh (25–39% by E. atherica). Seasonal differences in water use were not pronounced, likely due to the absence of longer dry periods during summer in these temperate salt marshes. Contradicting our expectation, roots in deeper soil showed higher water uptake rates per fine root mass than topsoil roots suggesting effective root adaptation to the anoxic subsoil. Transplanted A. portulacoides plants significantly increased the uptake of seawater with increasing inundation indicating flexibility in the use of water sources by this species which may facilitate acclimation to rising sea levels. We conclude that the zonation of salt marsh vegetation reflects the availability of water sources along the inundation gradient.


Coastal vegetation Precipitation Sea level rise Stable isotopes Tidal inundation 



We like to thank the administration of the Lower Saxony Wadden Sea National Park for giving the permission for study and granting access to the field sampling sites. This work was part of the project “BEFmate” (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning across marine and terrestrial ecosystems) funded by the Ministry for Science and Culture of Lower Saxony, Germany under project number ZN2930. Financial support is gratefully acknowledged.

Author contribution statement

RR, AK and CL conceived and designed the experiments. RR and HC developed methodology. RR conducted field work and laboratory analyses. RR and AK analyzed the data. RR and CL wrote the manuscript. HC and AK provided editorial advice. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2018_4229_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (209 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 209 kb)
442_2018_4229_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (150 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 150 kb)
442_2018_4229_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (351 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 351 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plant Ecology and Ecosystems Research, Albrecht von Haller Institute for Plant SciencesUniversity of GoettingenGoettingenGermany
  2. 2.BioclimatologyUniversity of GoettingenGoettingenGermany
  3. 3.Centre of Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Use (CBL)University of GoettingenGoettingenGermany

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