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Plant Species Responses to an Elevational Gradient in German North Sea Salt Marshes

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Abstract

Salt marsh vegetation often occurs in zones along an elevational gradient. We present a detailed analysis of the distribution of species in a data set of 2,691 plots from salt marshes along the German North Sea coast. For each 1 m2 plot, we estimated species’ percent cover and calculated elevation in relation to mean high tide. For the 19 most frequent species, distribution and dominance pattern along the elevational gradient (correlated with moisture and salinity) were quantified and species’ responses to this gradient analyzed by Huisman-Olff-Fresco (HOF) modelling. Elevational ranges, distribution pattern, and response curves varied widely among the species, with most species’ niches positioned in the middle part of the gradient. Non-parametric multiple comparisons (in total 171) did not reveal significant differences in species’ ranges for 40 species pairings. Most HOF models resulted in unimodal skewed response curves, with the probability of occurrence decreasing towards the lower and more extreme end of the gradient. We conclude that elevation largely explains species distribution within the studied salt marshes and that species ranges follow a continuum along the gradient. Our data provide a baseline for future studies of possible changes in distribution pattern caused by conservation management or sea level rise.

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Acknowledgments

We thank all management and contracting authorities for supporting this project, especially the Schleswig-Holstein Agency for Coastal Defence, National Park and Marine Conservation National Park Authority for providing data from tide gauges along the North Sea coast and Dr. Martin Stock for constructive cooperation. We also thank Rüdiger Prieß for field assistance, Jens Oldeland and Dr. Cord Peppler-Lisbach for helpful advice on using R software, and anonymous reviewers and Editors for comments that improved the manuscript. Tom Maxfield reviewed the English in the paper.

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Suchrow, S., Jensen, K. Plant Species Responses to an Elevational Gradient in German North Sea Salt Marshes. Wetlands 30, 735–746 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-010-0073-3

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