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Relationships between vegetation zonation and environmental factors in newly formed tidal marshes of the Yangtze River estuary


The Yangtze River delta is characterized by rapidly accreting sediments that form tidal flats that are quickly colonized by emergent vegetation including Scirpus mariqueter and the invasive species Spartina alterniflora. We measured soil surface elevation, water table depth, soil salinity, water content and compaction in the tidal flat, the Scirpus and Spartina zones and their borders to identify relationships between environmental factors and colonization by Scirpus and Spartina. With increasing elevation from tidal flat to Spartina, inundation frequency and duration, moisture and depth to water table decreased whereas soil salinity, temperature and compaction increased. High soil moisture and groundwater and low salinity were the characteristics of the tidal flat and its border with Scirpus. The Spartina zone and its border with Scirpus were characterized by greater salinity and elevation relative to the other zones. Our findings suggest that soil salinity controls patterns of plant zonation in the newly formed tidal salt marshes whereas elevation is of secondary importance. Our results suggest that patterns of vegetation zonation in tidal marshes of the Yangtze River delta are controlled by environmental factors, especially (low) salinity that favors colonization by Scirpus in the lower elevations of the marsh.

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We thank Wenyong Guo, Zaijun Xin and Yue Jia for their assistance with the collection of field data. Our research was supported by the 111 Project (B08022); Ministry of Education, China; Programme Strategic Scientific Alliances between China and the Netherlands (2008DFB90240); FP7.2009-1 (Contract 244104—THESEUS).

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Correspondence to Xiuzhen Li.

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He, Y., Li, X., Craft, C. et al. Relationships between vegetation zonation and environmental factors in newly formed tidal marshes of the Yangtze River estuary. Wetlands Ecol Manage 19, 341–349 (2011).

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  • Tidal marshes
  • Salinity
  • Spartina alterniflora
  • Scirpus mariqueter
  • Yangtze River estuary