Low-lying coastal ecosystems along the northern Gulf of Mexico are already experiencing the effects of elevated salinity from sea-level rise and are predicted to face extreme events such as extended saltwater inundation, intense Atlantic hurricanes, and episodic drought. The ability of coastal plant communities to survive stresses from these events depends largely on how these communities respond to the stresses. Our understanding of how plant communities dominated by native vs. invasive plants respond to extreme events is limited. Utilizing controlled greenhouse experiments, we assessed the responses of floating aquatic macrophyte communities, dominated by native or invasive plants, of the coastal floodplains, Louisiana, USA, to a gradient of chronic salinity, mimicking sea-level rise; a gradient of acute salinity, mimicking hurricane storm surges; and a gradient of desiccation stress, mimicking episodic drought. We found that salinity and desiccation stress effects on plant communities depended on the degree of plant invasion; plant community cover decreased precipitously as severity of stress increased. Specifically, extreme salinity led to a decrease in plant cover of > 90% when communities were dominated by invasive plants, whereas increased desiccation stress led to decreased plant cover of 100% when communities were dominated by native species. At low to moderate salinity, invasive dominated plant communities performed better than native dominated. These responses to salinity and desiccation stress may drive large-scale shifts in plant community structure, including loss of species. Our results underscore the importance of evaluating plant community responses to environmental extremes to determine the potential for future effects on dynamics and functioning of low-lying coastal floodplain ecosystems experiencing effects of climate change.
Estuaries and Coasts – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 4, 2018
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