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