, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 407–416 | Cite as

Determinants of expansion forPhragmites australis, common reed, in natural and impacted coastal marshes

  • David M. BurdickEmail author
  • Raymond A. Konisky


The rapid spread ofPhragmites australis in the coastal marshes of the Northeastern United States has been dramatic and noteworthy in that this native species appears to have gained competitive advantage across a broad range of habitats, from tidal salt marshes to freshwater wetlands. Concomitant with the spread has been a variety of human activities associated with coastal development as well as the displacement of nativeP. australis with aggressive European genotypes. This paper reviews the impacts caused by pure stands ofP. australis on the structure and functions of tidal marshes. To assess the determinants ofP. australis expansion, the physiological tolerance and competitive abilities of this species were examined using a field experiment.P. australis was planted in open tubes paired withSpartina alterniflora, Spartina patens, Juncus gerardii, Lythrum salicaria, andTypha angustifolia in low, medium, and high elevations at mesohaline (14‰), intermediate (18‰), and salt (23‰) marsh locations. Assessment of the physiological tolerance ofP. australis to conditions in tidal brackish and salt marshes indicated this plant is well suited to colonize creek banks as well as upper marsh edges. The competitive ability ofP. australis indicated it was a robust competitor relative to typical salt marsh plants. These results were not surprising since they agreed with field observations by other researchers and fit within current competition models throught to structure plant distribution within tidal marshes. Aspects ofP. australis expansion indicate superior competitive abilities based on attributes that fall outside the typical salt marsh or plant competition models. The alignment of some attributes with human impacts to coastal marshes provides a partial explanation of how this plant competes so well. To curb the spread of this invasive genotype, careful attention needs to be paid to human activities that affect certain marsh functions. Current infestations in tidal marshes should serve as a sentinel to indicate where human actions are likely promoting the invasion (e.g., through hydrologic impacts) and improved management is needed to sustain native plant assemblages (e.g., prohibit filling along margins).


Salt Marsh Tidal Marsh Coastal Marsh High Marsh Salt Marsh Plant 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Literature Cited

  1. Able, K. W., S. M. Hagan, andS. A. Brown. 2003. Mechanisms of marsh habitat alteration due toPhragmites: Response of young-of-the-year mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus) to treatment forPhragmites removal.Estuaries 26:484–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anisfeld, S. C., M. J. Tobin, andG. Benoit. 1999. Sedimentation rates in flow-restricted and restored salt marshes in Long Island Sound.Estuaries 22:231–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bart, D. 1997. The use of local knowledge in understanding ecological change: A study of salt hay farmers' knowledge ofPhragmites australis invasion. Master's Thesis, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey. New Brunswick, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  4. Bart, D. andJ. M. Hartman. 2000. Environmental determinants ofPhragmites australis expansion in a New Jersey salt marsh: An experimental approach.Oikos 89:59–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bart, D. andJ. M. Hartman. 2003. The role of large rhizome dispersal and low salinity windows in the establishment of common reed,Phragmites australis, in salt marshes: New links to human activities.Estuaries 26:436–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benoit, L. K. andR. A. Askins. 1999. Impact of the spread ofPhragmites on the distribution of birds in Connecticut tidal marshes.Wetlands 19:194–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bertness, M. D. 1985. Fiddler crab regulation ofSpartina alterniflora production in a New England salt marsh.Ecology 69: 1042–1055.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bertness, M. D. 1991. Interspecific interactions among high marsh perennials in a New England salt marsh.Ecology 72: 125–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bertness, M. D. andA. M. Ellison. 1987. Determinants of pattern in a New England salt marsh plant community.Ecological Monographs 57:129–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bertness, M. D., P. J. Ewanchuk, andB. R. Silliman. 2002. Anthropogenic modification of New England salt marsh landscapes.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99:1395–1398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bertness, M. D. andS. D. Hacker. 1994. Physical stress and positive interactions among marsh plants.American Naturalist 144:363–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bertness, M. D. andS. M. Yeh. 1994. Cooperative and competitive interactions in the recruitment of marsh elders.Ecology 75:2416–2429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burdick, D. M., R. Buschbaum, andE. Holt. 2001. Variation in soil salinity associated with expansion ofPhragmites australis in salt marshes.Environmental and Experimental Botany 46:247–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chambers, R. M. 1997. Porewater chemistry associated withPhragmites andSpartina in a Connecticut tidal marsh.Wetlands 17:360–367.Google Scholar
  15. Chambers, R. M., L. A. Meyerson, andK. Saltonstall. 1999. Expansion ofPhragmites australis into tidal wetlands of North America.Aquatic Botany 64:261–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dormann, C. F., R. Van Der Wal, andJ. P. Bakker. 2000. Competition and herbivory during salt marsh succession: The importance of forb growth strategy.Journal of Ecology 88:571–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ellison, A. M. 1987. Effects of competition, disturbance, and herbivory onSalicornia europaea.Ecology 68:576–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Emery, N. C., P. J. Ewanchuk, andM. D. Bertness. 2001. Competition and salt-marsh plant zonation: Stress tolerators may be dominant competitors.Ecology 82:2471–2485.Google Scholar
  19. Findlay, S. E. G., S. Dye, andK. A. Kuehn. 2002. Microbial growth and nitrogen retention in litter ofPhragmites australis compared toTypha angustifolia.Wetlands 22:616–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gallagher, J. L. andR. W. Howarth. 1987. Seasonal differences inSpartina recoverable reserves in the Great Sippewissett Marsh in Massachusetts.Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 25:313–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grace, J. B. 1987. The impact of preemption on the zonation of twoTypha species along lakeshores.Ecological Monographs 57:283–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grime, J. P. 1979. Plant Strategies and Vegetation Processes. Wiley, Chichester, U.K.Google Scholar
  23. Hacker, S. D. andM. D. Bertness. 1999. Experimental evidence for factors maintaining plant species diversity in a New England salt marsh.Ecology 80:2064–2073.Google Scholar
  24. Hara, T., J. Van Der Toorn, andJ. H. Mook. 1993. Growth dynamics and size structure of shoots ofPhragmites australis, a clonal plant.Journal of Ecology 81:47–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hartman, J. M. 1988. Recolonization of small disturbance patches in a New England salt marsh.American Journal of Botany 75:1625–1631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Haslam, S. M. 1971. The development and establishment of young plants ofPhragmites communis Trin.Annals of Botany 35: 1059–1072.Google Scholar
  27. Havens, K.J., H. Berquist, andW. I. Priest, III. 2003. Common reed grass,Phragmites australis, expansion into constructed wetlands: Are we mortgaging our wetland future?Estuaries 26: 417–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Havens, K. J., W. I. Priest, III, andH. Berquist. 1997. Investigation and long-term monitoring ofPhragmites australis within Virginia's constructed wetland sites.Environmental Management 21:599–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hellings, S. E. andJ. L. Gallagher. 1992. The effects of salinity and flooding onPhragmites australis.Journal of Applied Ecology 29:41–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Helsel, D. R. andR. M. Hirsch. 1997. Statistical Methods in Water Resources. Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  31. Hester, M. W., K. L. McKee, D. M. Burdick, M. S. Koch, K. S. Flynn, S. Patterson, andI. A. Mendelssohn. 1994. Clonal integration inSpartina patens across a nitrogen and salinity gradient.Canadian Journal of Botany 72:767–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Huckle, J. M., J. A. Potter, R. H. Marrs. 2000. Influence of environmental factors on the growth and interactions between salt marsh plants: Effects of salinity, sediment and waterlogging.Journal of Ecology 88:492–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jaworski, N. A., R. W. Howarth, andL. J. Hetling. 1997. Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen oxides onto the landscape contributes to coastal eutrophication in the northeast United States.Environmental Science and Technology 31:1995–2004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Keddy, P. A. 1989. Competition. Chapman and Hall, London, U.K.Google Scholar
  35. Keddy, P. A., L. Twolan-Strutt, andI. C. Wisheu. 1994. Competitive effect and response rankings in 20 wetland plants: Are they consistent across three environments?.Journal of Ecology 82:635–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Levine, J. M., J. S. Brewer, andM. D. Bertness. 1998. Nutrients, competition, and plant zonation in a New England salt marsh.Journal of Ecology 86:285–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lissner, J. andH.-H. Schierup. 1997. Effects of salinity on the growth ofPhragmites australis.Aquatic Botany 55:247–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mendelssohn, I. A. andD. M. Burdick. 1988. The relationship of soil parameters and root metabolism to primary production in periodically inundated soils, p. 398–428.In D. Hook, W. H. McKee, Jr., J. Gregory, V. G. Burell, Jr., M. R. DeVoe, R. E. Sojka, S. Gilbert, R. Banks, L. H. Stolzy, C. Brooks, T. D. Mathews, and T. H. Shear (eds.), Ecology and Management of Wetlands, Volume 1: Ecology of Wetlands. Croom Helm, Breckingham, U.K..Google Scholar
  39. Mendelssohn, I. A. andJ. T. Morris. 2000. Eco-physiological controls on the productivity ofSpartina alterniflora Loisel, p. 59–80.In M. P. Weinstein and D. A. Kreeger (eds.), Concepts and Controversies in Tidal Marsh Ecology. Kluwer Academic, Boston, Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  40. Meyerson, L. 2000. Ecosystem-level effects of invasive species: APhragmites case study in two freshwater tidal marsh ecosystems on the Connecticut River. Ph.D. Dissertation. Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.Google Scholar
  41. McKee, K. L., I. A. Mendelssohn, andD. M. Burdick. 1989. Effect of long-term flooding on root metabolic response in five freshwater marsh plant species.Canadian Journal of Botany 67:3446–3452.Google Scholar
  42. Minchinton, T. E. 2002. Disturbance by wrack facilitates spread ofPhragmites australis in a coastal marsh.Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 281:89–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mitsch, W. J. andJ. G. Gosselink. 2000. Wetlands. Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  44. Odum, W. E., T. J. Smith, III,J. K. Hoover, andC. C. McIvor. 1984. The ecology of tidal freshwater marshes of the United States East Coast: A community profile. FWS/OBS-87/17. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  45. Orson, R., R.S. Warren, andW. A. Niering. 1987. Development of a southern New England drowned valley tidal marsh.Estuaries 10:6–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pennings, S. C. andR. M. Callaway. 1992. Salt marsh zonation: The relative importance of competition and physical factors.Ecology 73:681–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pennings, S. C., L. E. Stanton, andJ. S. Brewer. 2002. Nutrient effects on the composition of salt marsh plant communities along the southern Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States.Estuaries 25:1164–1173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rand, T. A. 2000. Seed dispersal, habitat suitability and the distribution of halophytes across a salt marsh tidal gradient.Journal of Ecology 88:608–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rice, D., J. Rooth, andJ. C. Stevenson. 2000. Colonization and expansion ofPhragmites australis in upper Chesapeake Bay tidal marshes.Wetlands 20:280–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Roman, C. T., W. A. Niering, andR. S. Warren. 1984. Salt marsh vegetation changes in response to tidal restriction.Environmental Management 8:140–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rooth, J. E., J. C. Stevenson, andJ. C. Cornwell. 2003. The influence of 5 and 20-yr oldPhragmites populations on rates of accretion in an oligohaline tidal marsh of Chesapeake Bay.Estuaries 26:475–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rozsa, R. 1995. Tidal restoration in Connecticut, p. 51–65.In G. D. Dreyer and W. A. Niering (eds.), Tidal Marshes of Long Island Sound: Ecology, History and Restoration, Bulletin no. 34. The Connecticut College Arboretum, New London, Connecticut.Google Scholar
  53. Saltonstall, K. 2002. Cryptic invasion by a non-native genotype of the common reed,Phragmites australis, into North America.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99:2445–2449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Saltzman, A. G. andN. A. Parker. 1985. Neighbors ameliorate local salinity stress for a rhizomatous plant in a heterogeneous environment.Oecologia 65:273–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. SASInstitute. 1997. JMP Statistics Software Version 3.1. SAS Institute, Inc., Cary, North Carolina.Google Scholar
  56. Schat, M. 1984. A comparative ecophysiologic study of the effects of waterlogging and submergence on dune slack plants: Growth, survival and mineral nutrition in sand culture experiments.Oecologia 62:279–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Silliman, B. R. andJ. C. Zieman. 2001. Top-down control ofSpartina alterniflora production by periwinkle grazing in a Virginia salt marsh.Ecology 82:2830–2845.Google Scholar
  58. Tilman, D. 1982. Resource Competition and Community Structure. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  59. Tilman, D. 1988. Plant Strategies and the Dynamics and Structure of Plant Communities. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  60. Van Der Wal, R., M. Egas, A. Van Der Veen, andJ. Bakker. 2000. Effects of resource competition and herbivory on plant performance along a natural productivity gradient.Journal of Ecology 88:317–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Valiela, I., J. M. Teal, andN. Y. Persson. 1976. Production and dynamics of experimentally enriched salt marsh vegetation: Belowground biomass.Limnology and Oceanography 21:245–252.Google Scholar
  62. Warren, R. S., P. E. Fell, J. L. Grimsby, E. L. Buck, G. C. Rilling, andR. A. Fertek. 2001. Rates, patterns, and impacts ofPhragmites australis expansion and effects of experimentalPhragmites control on vegetation, macroinvertebrates, and fish within tidelands of the lower connecticut River.Estuaries 24: 90–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Windham, L. andR. G. Lathrop, Jr. 1999. Effects ofPhragmites australis (common reed) invasion on aboveground biomass and soil properties in brackish tidal marsh of the Mullica River, New Jersey.Estuaries 22:927–935.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Ziska, L. H. 2001. Changes in competitive ability between a C4 crop and a C3 weed with elevated carbon dioxide.Weed Science 49:622–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Sources of Unpublished Materials

  1. Linder, C. Personal Communication. Habitat Restoration Center, Office of Habitat Conservation, National Marine and Fisheries Service, 1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910.Google Scholar
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. 2003. January. Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. Available: [2/10/2003].Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Department of Natural ResourcesUniversity of New HampshireDurham

Personalised recommendations