Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 896–907 | Cite as

Phenotypic Variation Among Invasive Phragmites australis Populations Does Not Influence Salinity Tolerance

  • Forest R. SchenckEmail author
  • Torrance C. Hanley
  • R. Edward Beighley
  • A. Randall Hughes


Phenotypic variation within species can have community- and ecosystem-level effects. Such variation may be particularly important in ecosystem engineers, including many invasive species, because of the strong influence of these species on their surrounding communities and environment. We combined field surveys and glasshouse experiments to investigate phenotypic variation within the invasive common reed, Phragmites australis, among four estuarine source sites along the east coast of North America. Field surveys revealed variation in P. australis height and stem density among source sites. In a glasshouse environment, percent germination of P. australis seeds also varied across source sites. To test the degree to which phenotypic variation in P. australis reflected genetic or environmental differences, we conducted a glasshouse common garden experiment assessing the performance of P. australis seedlings from the four source sites across a salinity gradient. Populations maintained differences in morphology and growth in a common glasshouse environment, indicating a genetic component to the observed phenotypic variation. Despite this variation, experimentally increased porewater salinity consistently reduced P. australis stem density, height, and biomass. Differences in these morphological metrics are important because they are correlated with the impacts of invasive P. australis on the ecological communities it invades. Our results indicate that both colonization and spread of invasive P. australis will be dependent on the environmental and genetic context. Additional research on intraspecific variation in invasive species, particularly ecosystem engineers, will improve assessments of invasion impacts and guide management decisions in estuarine ecosystems.


Common garden Ecosystem engineer Germination Intraspecific variation Invasive species Salt marsh 



Elise Grape, Jeanne Bloomberg, Adar Thau, Shannon Freyer, and Daniel Von Staats assisted in the field and lab. Dongmei Feng helped proofread the manuscript. Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable feedback on the manuscript. This project was funded by a Northeastern University Tier1 grant to E. Beighley, D. Kimbro, and R. Hughes. This is contribution 356 from the Northeastern University Marine Science Center.

Supplementary material

12237_2017_318_Fig5_ESM.gif (288 kb)
Fig. S1

Diagrams depicting (a) the experimental design and (b) salinity treatment methodology of the glasshouse salinity experiment (GIF 288 kb)

12237_2017_318_MOESM1_ESM.eps (175 kb)
High Resolution Image (EPS 174 kb)
12237_2017_318_Fig6_ESM.gif (47 kb)
Fig. S2

Correlations among morphological measures of P. australis panicles. Panicle morphological measures are displayed along the main diagonal. For the morphological measures along the corresponding x- and y-axis, panels above the main diagonal display Pearson’s correlation coefficient (95% confidence intervals), and panels below the main diagonal display correlation scatterplots. Axes are displayed on the edge of the figure: length (cm), width (cm), square-root spikelet number, seed number per spikelet, and square-root weight (g) (GIF 46 kb)

12237_2017_318_MOESM2_ESM.eps (431 kb)
High Resolution Image (EPS 431 kb)
12237_2017_318_Fig7_ESM.gif (4 kb)
Fig. S3

Scree plot for principal components analysis of Z-scale transformed panicle traits: length, width, spikelet number, seed number per spikelet, and weight. Observed eigenvalues are plotted as open bars and the expected distribution of eigenvalues generated by the broken-stick model are plotted as open circles (GIF 4 kb)

12237_2017_318_MOESM3_ESM.eps (24 kb)
High Resolution Image (EPS 24 kb)
12237_2017_318_MOESM4_ESM.docx (59 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 58 kb)
12237_2017_318_MOESM5_ESM.docx (65 kb)
Table S2 (DOCX 64 kb)
12237_2017_318_MOESM6_ESM.docx (61 kb)
Table S3 (DOCX 60 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marine and Environmental Sciences, Marine Science CenterNortheastern UniversityNahantUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA

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