Environmental determination of shoot height in populations of the cordgrass Spartina maritima

J. M. Castillo, S. Redondo, C. Wharmby, M. E. Figueroa, E. M. Castellanos, A. J. Davy

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23 Citations (Scopus)


Spartina species tend to exhibit a range of phenotypes, often with short and tall growth forms. Such differences have been attributed variously to environmentally induced phenotypic plasticity and genetic diferentiation between populations. This work examines the basis of height variation inSpartina maritima (Curtis) Fernald at Odiel salt marshes, southwest Spain. Populations from sites with lower sediment redox potentials tended to have significantly taller shoots. Thirty-four natural populations with an 8-fold range of shoot height were transplanted to a common environment on an unvegetated, intertidal plain and shoot height was measured annually for 3 yr. There was a striking convergence in height across populations after transplantation and the change in height in each year of a population was linearly related to its initial height. Most populations grew taller after transplantation, suggesting environmental limitation in their natural habitats. Populations that were originally tall tended to become shorter. The change in shoot height was negatively related to the difference in surface sediment redox potential between their natural sites and the common transplant site. Hypoxic sediments may stimulate stem growth, resulting in improved photosynthetic gas exchange and internal aeration of roots and rhizomes. Although height variation inS. maritima appears mainly to be a result of phenotypic plasticity, a genetic component cannot be ruled out. This study emphasizes the importance of long-term studies, preferably longer than turnover time of shoot populations. The highly plastic growth form ofS. maritima allows it to colonize a wide range of habitats in environmentally heterogeneous salt marshes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-766
Number of pages6
Issue number5
Early online date7 Jun 2005
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2005

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