Riding the storm: the response of Plantago lanceolata to simulated tidal flooding
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Supra-tidal plant communities fulfil a vital role in coastal protection and conservation but despite an increased likelihood of salt-water inundation from storm surges, we understand remarkably little on how salinity affects habitats like coastal grasslands or their component species. We quantified the survival and growth of a common coastal grassland plant, Plantago lanceolata when exposed to short-duration (1-, 2-, 4-, or 8-h) immersion in sea water. We also calculated root:shoot ratios (R:SR) and specific leaf area (SLA) to examine how salinity stress affects above- and below-ground resource allocation patterns and likely interactions with other trophic levels. Immersion in sea water reduced Plantago survival particularly at longer durations of 4- and 8 h, and for surviving plants, growth was also much reduced. Contrary to studies with crop plants however, we found reduced allocation to root biomass (R:SR) and increased SLA. The fact that Plantago displayed opposite ecophysiological responses to those consistently reported in the literature highlights that the response of coastal grassland plants to storm surge events cannot be assumed from conventional wisdom. In order to better protect and conserve these internationally important ecosystems from the effects of anthropogenically induced sea-level rise, a systematic exploration of the effects of sea water flooding on coastal grasslands is required.
KeywordsClimate change Ecophysiology Salinity Sea-level rise SLA Storm surge
The support of the European Commission through FP7.2009-1, Contract 244104 - THESEUS (“Innovative technologies for safer European coasts in a changing climate”), is gratefully acknowledged.
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