|Nitrogen inputs promote the spread of an invasive marsh grass.
|Year of Publication
|Tyler, AChristina, Lambrinos, JG, Grosholz, ED
|Biomass, California, Fertilizers, Geologic Sediments, Nitrogen, Poaceae, Washington, Wetlands
Excess nutrient loading and large-scale invasion by nonnatives are two of the most pervasive and damaging threats to the biotic and economic integrity of our estuaries. Individually, these are potent forces, but it is important to consider their interactive impacts as well. In this study we investigated the potential limitation of a nonnative intertidal grass, Spartina alterniflora, by nitrogen (N) in estuaries of the western United States. Nitrogen fertilization experiments were conducted in three mud-flat habitats invaded by S. alterniflora in Willapa Bay, Washington, USA, that differed in sediment N. We carried out parallel experiments in San Francisco Bay, California, USA, in three habitats invaded by hybrid Spartina (S. alterniflora x S. foliosa), in previously unvegetated mud flat, and in native S. foliosa or Salicornia virginica marshes. We found similar aboveground biomass and growth rates between habitats and estuaries, but end-of-season belowground biomass was nearly five times greater in San Francisco Bay than in Willapa Bay. In Willapa Bay, aboveground biomass was significantly correlated with sediment N content. Addition of N significantly increased aboveground biomass, stem density, and the rate of spread into uninvaded habitat (as new stems per day) in virtually all habitats in both estuaries. Belowground biomass increased in Willapa Bay only, suggesting that belowground biomass is not N limited in San Francisco Bay due to species differences, N availability, or a latitudinal difference in the response of Spartina to N additions. The relative impact of added N was greater in Willapa Bay, the estuary with lower N inputs from the watershed, than in San Francisco Bay, a highly eutrophic estuary. Nitrogen fertilization also altered the competitive interaction between hybrid Spartina and Salicornia virginica in San Francisco Bay by increasing the density and biomass of the invader and decreasing the density of the native. There was no significant effect of N on the native, Spartina foliosa. Our results indicate that excess N loading to these ecosystems enhances the vulnerability of intertidal habitats to rapid invasion by nonnative Spartina sp.