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Phragmites australis (Common Reed) Invasion in the Rhode River Subestuary of the Chesapeake Bay: Disentangling the Effects of Foliar Nutrients, Genetic Diversity, Patch Size, and Seed Viability


The invasion and expansion of the introduced haplotype of Phragmites australis across North America is of growing concern. Previous studies in the Chesapeake Bay region found that Phragmites was more abundant, had higher foliar nitrogen, and produced more viable seeds in brackish wetland subestuaries with more anthropogenic development of the watershed. Here, we focus on a different scale and address issues related to the invasion of Phragmites within a single subestuary, the Rhode River. We evaluated patterns in seed viability, foliar nutrient concentrations, patch size, and genetic variation in ten Phragmites patches in wetlands that occur in the side of the subestuary that is surrounded by forest and 10 patches in wetlands that are in the side of the subestuary that has extensive anthropogenic development. Seed viability varied from 0–60% among the 20 patches but did not differ significantly between patches on the developed vs. forested sides of the Rhode River. Foliar nutrients also did not differ between patches on the two sides of the Rhode River. Seed viability, however, was negatively related to foliar nutrients. Most Phragmites patches consisted of >1 genotype. Larger patches had multiple genotypes, and patches with more genotypes produced more viable seeds. Our study indicates that the Rhode River subestuary behaves as one system with no differences in the measured Phragmites variables between the forested vs. developed sides of the watershed. Our findings also suggest a cyclical process by which Phragmites can spread: larger patches contain more genetic diversity, which increases the chances for cross-fertilization. The subsequent increased production of viable seeds can increase local levels of genetic diversity, which can further facilitate the spread of Phragmites by seed.

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This research was funded by U.S. EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Grant # 692105 to Denice Wardrop and a Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship to KMK. Thanks to Dan Gustafson and the SERC work/learn program for support of Heather Baron, Jay O'Neill for field and lab assistance, Nancy Goff and Nise Butera for performing the chemical analyses, Hannah Ingram for GIS assistance, Jeff Hunt and the Laboratory of Analytical Biology in Suitland, MD, for help with genetic analyses and use of their equipment, and Lori Biederman for a helpful review of our manuscript.

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Correspondence to Karin M. Kettenring.

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Kettenring, K.M., McCormick, M.K., Baron, H.M. et al. Phragmites australis (Common Reed) Invasion in the Rhode River Subestuary of the Chesapeake Bay: Disentangling the Effects of Foliar Nutrients, Genetic Diversity, Patch Size, and Seed Viability. Estuaries and Coasts 33, 118–126 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-009-9241-1

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  • Chesapeake Bay
  • Foliar nutrients
  • Genetic diversity
  • Invasive species
  • Microsatellite markers
  • Seed viability