Interdependence among disturbance events, ecosystem properties, and biological invasions often make causal relationships difficult to discern. For example, Phragmites australis invasion in mid-Atlantic salt marshes is often associated with disturbances that create well-drained features as well as with low sulfide concentrations, but explanations of these associations have been elusive. We tested experimentally: 1) that disturbances increasing wetland drainage facilitate Phragmites invasion by altering sulfide concentrations and salinity; 2) that translocation allows plants to spread beyond drainage areas; and 3) that plants can then lower edaphic stress through pressure ventilation of the rhizosphere and promote further expansion. At the invasion front, treatments of 1) severing rhizomes to halt translocation and 2) combined severing with clipping dead culms to limit ventilation of the rhizosphere killed most culms, but did not affect pore water chemistry. In already invaded areas, severing and clipping reduced culm height and panicle production, severing alone and in combination with clipping also raised sulfide and ammonium concentrations in the root zone. There were no treatment effects on plant performance or pore water chemistry along mosquito ditches, where sulfide concentrations were negligible. Small-scale hydrological alterations such as ditches appear to provide suitable sites for the establishment of Phragmites because soils are well-drained and are low in free sulfides. Subsequent expansion into more hostile areas occurs through translocation, with well-drained areas acting as sources for essential substances. Once established, the plant increases rhizosphere oxygenation and lowers sulfide concentrations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics