Community structure, plant interactions, seedling performance and seed bank composition of salt marshes along an estuarine gradient in Coos Bay, Oregon

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Title: Community structure, plant interactions, seedling performance and seed bank composition of salt marshes along an estuarine gradient in Coos Bay, Oregon
Author: Keammerer, Holly Barton, 1983-
Abstract: Salt marshes are intertidal communities dominated by halophytic vascular plants that are subjected periodically to tidal inundation. These species have developed various adaptations to this stress, including tolerances of fluctuating salinity, extended periods of inundation and intervals of anoxic conditions. The marshes are divided into zones of different plant communities based on species' tolerances of ambient estuarine conditions. Abiotic stresses change along the estuarine salinity gradient (marine to riverine), potentially altering development and composition of plant communities. Abiotic gradients associated with tides are not the only factors that contribute to development of plant community composition in salt marshes. Both negative (competition) and positive (facilitation) biological interactions are also important. Factors that influence community structure in salt marshes, particularly on the eastern North American seaboard, have been well studied. In contrast, salt marshes along the Oregon coast are smaller and more discrete and have received comparatively little attention. The community structure and seed bank composition of six marshes along an estuarine salinity gradient were evaluated. Four major community types dominated marshes that varied in the salinity of inundating tidal waters. Community types were relatively consistent throughout the estuary despite the distances between the marshes. Unlike the emergent plant communities, marsh seed bank composition was more similar within a marsh than within a community type. The low and high marsh community types were separated by a distinct boundary in the marine marshes. Although abiotic factors influence the physical separation of communities, competitive interactions commonly determine the upper limit of a species. In Metcalf marsh, however, the upper boundary for two dominant low marsh species was not determined by competition with the high marsh dominant species. Positive biotic interactions between seedlings and existing vegetation in a community are important factors in determining species distributions, particularly in stressful estuarine environments. In salt marshes, where abiotic stress can be harsh, presence of existing vegetation can ameliorate these conditions and enhance germination and seedling establishment. However, interaction between seedlings and the emergent marsh community was highly competitive, though germination of one species was enhanced in the presence of existing vegetation. This dissertation includes un-published co-authored material.
Description: xviii, 160 p. : ill. (some col.)
Date: 2011-03

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