The response of two oligohaline marsh macrophyte communities to pulses of increased salinity was studied over a single growing season in a greenhouse experiment. The plant communities were allowed a recovery period in freshwater following the pulse events. The experimental treatments included: (1) salinity influx rate (rate of salinity increase from 0 to 12 gl-1); (2) duration of exposure to elevated salinity; and (3) water depth. The communities both included Sagittaria lancifolia L.; the codominant species were Eleocharis palustris (L.) Roemer and J.A. Schultes in community 1 and Schoenoplectus americanus (Pers.) Volk. ex Schinz and R. Keller in community 2. Effects of the treatments on sediment chemical characteristics (salinity, pH, redox potential, and sulfide and ammonium concentrations) and plant community attributes (aboveground and belowground biomass, stem density, leaf tissue nutrients, and species richness) were examined. The treatment effects often interacted to influence sediment and plant communities characteristics following recovery in fresh water. Salinity influx rate per se, however, had little effect on the abiotic or biotic response variables; significant influx effects were found when the 0 gl-1 (zero influx) treatment was compared to the 12 gl-1 treatments, regardless of the rate salinity was raised. A salinity level of 12 gl-1 had negative effects on plant community structure and composition; these effects were usually associated with 3 months of salinity exposure. Water depth often interacted with exposure duration, but increased water depth did independently decrease the values of some community response measures. Community 1 was affected more than community 2 in the most extreme salinity treatment (3 months exposure/15-cm water depth). Although species richness in both communities was reduced, structural changes were more dramatic in community 1. Biomass and stem density were reduced in community 1 overall and in both dominant species. Structural changes in community 2 consisted of reduced biomass and stem density in the community overall and in S. lancifolia; S. americanus was not affected by salinity. In this most extreme treatment, community 2 tended to change to a monospecific S. americanus stand while community 1 was reduced to a few surviving stems of secondary species. Our results suggest that vegetation recovery or establishment of new species following a temporary increase in soil water salinity will vary with exposure duration and water depth. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.