The importance of competition in regulating plant species abundance along a salinity gradient

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Current theories differ in their predictions concerning the effects of interspecific interactions on species growth and distribution along environmental gradients. In this study, we examined the influence of competition on species composition across a salinity gradient. This work involved three common fresh and brackish marsh species. The three species, Spartina patens, Sagittaria lancifolia, and Panicum hemitomon, differ in salt tolerances but are commonly found in overlapping zones across coastal marsh gradients in the southeastern United States. Plants were grown in a greenhouse under four salinity treatments (0, 2, 4, and 8 g/kg), in monocultures and in three‐species mixtures. Data from the monocultures and mixtures were used to examine the importance of competition in regulating community composition and species' growth. Results for individual species were significantly different when grown in monoculture vs. the three‐species mixture. While with increasing salinity community dominance shifted toward the most salt‐tolerant species, Spartina patens, competition was found to alter community composition equally over all salinities. However, the responses of individual species demonstrated a very different pattern; the relative importance of competition in influencing individual growth differed substantially depending on the salinity tolerances of species. These results support the contention that, as abiotic stress increases, competition becomes less of a limiting factor in regulating the abundance of a species. However, the role of competition at the community level is the sum of the individual species' responses and may or may not vary with the level of abiotic stress.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The importance of competition in regulating plant species abundance along a salinity gradient
Series title Ecology
DOI 10.1890/0012-9658(2001)082[0062:TIOCIR]2.0.CO;2
Volume 82
Issue 1
Year Published 2001
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) National Wetlands Research Center, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 8 p.
First page 62
Last page 69
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