Plant Ecology

, Volume 219, Issue 7, pp 823–835 | Cite as

Plant traits shape the effects of tidal flooding on soil and plant communities in saltmarshes

  • Elisa PellegriniEmail author
  • Francesco Boscutti
  • Maria De Nobili
  • Valentino Casolo


Saltmarshes are recognised worldwide to be among the most complex ecosystems, where several environmental factors concur to sustain their fragile functioning. Among them, soil–plant interactions are pivotal but often overlooked. The aim of this work was to use a structural equation modelling (SEM) approach to get new insight into soil–plant interactions, focusing on the effect of plant traits and abundance on soil, and test the effect of soil and/or plants on the entire community, monitoring changes in plant richness. The target halophytes Limonium narbonense and Sarcocornia fruticosa were sampled in the Marano and Grado lagoon (northern Adriatic Sea). Basal leaves of L. narbonense and green shoots of S. fruticosa were used to estimate plant growth, while the abundance of both species was used as a proxy of species competition. SEM was applied to test relationships between predictors and response variables in a single causal network. The flooding period (hydroperiod) negatively affected plant growth and soil properties, whereas plants decreased the intensity of soil reduction. Flooding did not directly affect species abundance or diversity, whose changes were instead driven by plant traits. The direct relationships between plant traits and species richness highlighted that species competition could be even more important than environmental stresses in defining plant diversity and zonation.


Plant diversity Redox potential Waterlogging Plant–plant interaction Species richness 



The authors would like to thank the Environmental Protection Agency ARPA-FVG (Italy) for logistic support during the field survey, as well as prof. Angelo Vianello for the critical reading of the text.

Supplementary material

11258_2018_837_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1720 kb). Supplementary material S1: Models tested during the backwards stepwise elimination procedure. Dashed arrows refer to relationships removed in the selection. Models were accepted for significant Fisher’s C test (p > 0.05). Among significant models, the one with the lowest Akaike Information Criterion corrected (AICc) was selected for the final SEM analysis (highlighted in bold)
11258_2018_837_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (27 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 26 kb). Supplementary material S2: Field data and vegetation surveys. Data for each sampling site are reported


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plant Biology Unit, Department of Agricultural, Food, Environmental and Animal ScienceUniversity of UdineUdineItaly
  2. 2.Soil Chemistry Unit, Department of Agricultural, Food, Environmental and Animal ScienceUniversity of UdineUdineItaly

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