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Oecologia

, Volume 78, Issue 3, pp 289–296 | Cite as

Water relations and growth responses of Uniola paniculata (sea oats) to soil moisture and water-table depth

  • Mark W. Hester
  • Irving A. Mendelssohn
Original Papers

Summary

This study examined the water relations and growth responses of Uniola paniculata (sea oats) to (1) three watering regimes and (2) four controlled water-table depths. Uniola paniculata is frequently the dominant foredune grass along much of the southeastern Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, but its distribution is limited in Louisiana. Throughout most of its range, U. paniculata tends to dominate and be well adapted to the most exposed areas of the dune where soil moisture is low. Dune elevations in Louisiana, however, rarely exceed 2 m, and as a result the depth to the water table is generally shallow. We hypothesized that if U. paniculata grows very near the water-table, as it may in Louisiana, it will display signs of water-logging stress. This study demonstrated that excessive soil moisture resulting from inundation or shallow water-table depth has a greater negative effect on plant growth than do low soil moisture conditions. Uniola paniculata's initial response to either drought or inundation was a reduction of leaf (stomatal) conductance and a concomitant decrease in leaf elongation. However, plants could recover from drought-induced leaf xylem pressures of less than-3.3 MPa, but prolonged inundation killed the plants. Waterlogging stress (manifested in significantly reduced leaf stomatal conductances and reduced biomass production) was observed in plants grown at 0.3 m above the water table. This stress was relieved, however, at an elevation of 0.9 m above the water table. As the elevation was increased from 0.9 to 2.7 m, there were no signs of drought stress nor a stimulation in growth due to lower soil moisture. We concluded that although U. paniculata's moisture-conserving traits adapt it well to the dune environment, this species can grow very well at an elevation of only 0.9 m above the water table. Field measurements of water-table depth in three Louisiana populations averaged about 1.3 m. Therefore, the observed limited distribution of U. paniculata along the Louisiana coast apparently cannot be explained by water-logging stress induced by the low dune elevations and the corresponding shallow water-table depth.

Key words

Coastal vegetation Louisiana Uniola paniculata Water relations Water table 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark W. Hester
    • 1
  • Irving A. Mendelssohn
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory for Wetland Soils and Sediments, Center for Wetland ResourcesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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