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Factors affecting the success of early salt-marsh colonizers: seed availability rather than site suitability and dispersal traits


We evaluated the process of salt-marsh colonization in early successional stages of salt-marsh restoration and investigated how the sequence of species establishment related to different success factors. Vegetation data were collected by permanent plots from the restoration site and adjacent, reference salt marshes during three consecutive periods. Seed length, width and mass were used as dispersal traits, and Ellenberg moisture, salinity and nutrient indices as indicators of site suitability. Seed production in the reference site and seed bank in the restoration site were also investigated. The establishment of salt-marsh species within the restoration site was rapid (less than 5 years). The cover of plant species was not correlated between the restored and the reference sites at the first year of restoration, but this correlation was significant during the following years. Seed availability was more important in explaining the sequence of species establishment than salt and nutrient-limitation tolerance. The first colonizers are known as massive seed producers, with shorter seed length and lower seed mass, which probably increased buoyancy. Among dispersal and site traits, seed length and mass, and in a less extent salinity and nutrients, indicated a relationship with new colonizers. Despite few species have not (yet) appeared in vegetation and seed bank in the restoration site, the existence of an existing salt marsh adjacent to the restoration site is shown to be vital for fast colonization of newly created intertidal areas.

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The first author was partly founded by a grant from the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (Islamic Republic of Iran). We thank B. Bossuyt, M. Wolters and one anonymous referee for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. We further thank E. Vercruysse and T. Milotic for technical help with seed bank analysis and seedling identification, and wish to thank the INBO (Research Institute for Nature and Forest) for logistic support, and the VLIZ (Flanders Marine Institute) for greenhouse facilities. We finally thank the Agency for Nature and Forest for their admission to use the IJzermonding nature reserve for this research project.

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Correspondence to Julien Pétillon.

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Jean-Pierre Maelfait was deceased on February 6, 2009 and to whom this study is dedicated.

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Erfanzadeh, R., Garbutt, A., Pétillon, J. et al. Factors affecting the success of early salt-marsh colonizers: seed availability rather than site suitability and dispersal traits. Plant Ecol 206, 335–347 (2010).

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  • Site suitability
  • Seed dispersal traits
  • Seed availability
  • Primary succession