Biological Invasions

, Volume 18, Issue 8, pp 2159–2174 | Cite as

Variation in tussock architecture of the invasive cordgrass Spartina densiflora along the Pacific Coast of North America

  • Jesús M. CastilloEmail author
  • Brenda J. Grewell
  • Andrea J. Pickart
  • Enrique Figueroa
  • Mark Sytsma
Invasive Spartina


Some introduced species spread rapidly beyond their native range and into novel habitats mediated by a high degree of phenotypic plasticity and/or rapid evolutionary responses. In this context, clonality has been described as a significant factor contributing to invasiveness. We studied the abiotic environment and the responses of different tussock architecture traits of the invasive cordgrass Spartina densiflora Brongn. (Poaceae). A common garden experiment and field studies of S. densiflora in salt marshes across a wide latitudinal gradient from California (USA) to British Columbia (Canada) provided a model system for an integrated study of the potential mechanisms underlying the response of invasive S. densiflora populations to changes in environmental conditions. Our results showed that S. densiflora is able to adjust to widely variable climate (specifically, air temperature and the duration of the growing season) and sediment conditions (specifically, texture and hypoxia) through phenotypical plastic key functional tussock traits (e.g. shoot density, height, above- and below-ground biomass allocation patterns). Root biomass increased in coarser sediments in contrast to rhizomes, which were more abundant in finer sediments. Above-ground biomass and leaf area index increased mainly with air temperature during summer, and more robust (taller and wider) shoots were associated with more oxygenated sediments. In view of our results, S. densiflora appears to be a halophyte with a high degree of phenotypic plasticity that would enable it to respond successfully to changes in the abiotic conditions of salt marshes driven by global climate change, such as increasing salinity and temperatures.


Anoxia Climate change Invasive species Phenotypic plasticity Salt marshes Tussock traits 



The authors thank D. Kerr, N. Mikkelsen and Ch. van Ossenbruggen for their assistance in the field. Thanks to M. Moscow, C. J. Futrell, J. Grant, R. Miller, S. Wells and C. Peña for their help in the laboratory. We are also grateful to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Vancouver Island Conservation Land Management Program and Ducks Unlimited Canada for their assistance. Jesús M. Castillo thanks to the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport for a grant of staff mobility for university teachers.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jesús M. Castillo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Brenda J. Grewell
    • 2
  • Andrea J. Pickart
    • 3
  • Enrique Figueroa
    • 1
  • Mark Sytsma
    • 4
  1. 1.Departamento de Biología Vegetal y EcologíaUniversidad de SevillaSevilleSpain
  2. 2.USDA-ARS Exotic and Invasive Weeds Research UnitUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceHumboldt Bay National Wildlife RefugeArcataUSA
  4. 4.Center for Lakes and ReservoirsPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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