Colonization, growth, and clonal morphology differ with genotype and are influenced by elevation. Local adaptation of Spartina alterniflora to environmental conditions may lead to dominance by different suites of genotypes in different locations within a marsh. In a constructed marsh, we found reduced colonization in terms of density of clones with increasing distance from edge in a 200-ha mudflat created in 1996; however, growth in diameter was not different among three 100-m-long zones that differed in distance from site edge. Distance from edge was confounded by elevation in this comparison of natural colonization. The rate of clonal expansion in diameter was 3.1 m/yr, and clonal growth was linear over the 28 mo of the study. The area dominated by S. alterniflora in the three distance zones increased concomitantly with clonal growth. However, the lower initial clonal densities and colonization by other plant species resulted in reduced overall dominance by S. alterniflora in the two more-interior locations. Seedling recruitment was an important component of S. alterniflora colonization at all elevations and distances from edge two years after site creation. Seedlings were spatially very patchy and tended to occur near clones that probably produced them. A field experiment revealed that S. alterniflora height and total stem length varied with genotype, while stem density and flowering stem density did not. Differences between edge and center of clonal patches also occurred for some response variables, and there were also significant interactions with genotype. Differences between edge and center are interpreted as differences in clone morphology. Elevation differences over distances of a few meters influenced total stem length and flowering stem density but not other response variables. Clones that were larger in diameter also tended to have greater stem heights and total stem lengths. A number of plant morphological measures were found to vary significantly among the five genotypes and had broad-sense heritabilities ranging up to 0.71. These results indicate that S. alterniflora populations developing on new substrata colonize broadly, but growth and reproduction vary with genotype and are influenced by changes in elevation (range: 11.8 cm), and probably other environmental factors, over relatively small distances. Differences in growth and clone morphology of different genets, and the frequent occurrence of seedlings throughout the site, underscore the importance of genetic variability in natural and created populations.
Additional publication details
Genotype and elevation influence Spartina alterniflora colonization and growth in a created salt marsh