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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 678:63-79 (2021)  -  DOI:

Saltmarsh seeds in motion: the relative importance of dispersal units and abiotic conditions

Zhiyuan Zhao1,2,3, Liquan Zhang1, Lin Yuan1,4,*, Tjeerd J. Bouma2,3,5

1State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research, Institute of Eco-Chongming, East China Normal University, 200241 Shanghai, PR China
2NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Department of Estuarine and Delta Systems, PO Box 140, 4400 AC Yerseke, the Netherlands
3Faculty of Geosciences, Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, PO Box 80115, 3508 TC Utrecht, the Netherlands
4Yangtze Delta Estuarine Wetland Ecosystem Observation and Research Station, Ministry of Education & Shanghai Science and Technology Committee, 202162 Shanghai, PR China
5HZ University of Applied Sciences, Building with Nature group, 4382 NW Vlissingen, the Netherlands
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Propagule dispersal is fundamental to the colonization of new habitats, metapopulation connectivity, and gene flow and thus enables saltmarsh species to cope with global change. In this study, mesocosm and flume experiments were used to quantify the effects of different dispersal units (i.e. seed, spikelet, inflorescence, and plant fragment-containing seeds) and abiotic conditions on the dispersal processes of 4 globally distributed saltmarsh species: Salicornia europaea, Scirpus maritimus, Spartina anglica, and Elymus athericus. The results showed that (1) moving seawater has a species-specific effect on buoyancy, leading to prolonged floatability of high tidal-flat species E. athericus and reduced floatability of pioneer species; (2) tidal currents increase dispersal speed, whereas wind can have additive or antagonistic effects on current-dominated dispersal speed depending on its direction; (3) wave action reduces dispersal speed, but this effect becomes smaller with increasing wave magnitudes and/or applied co-directional wind; (4) dispersal speed may vary depending on the physical forcing and type and morphology of the dispersal units, but the largest species effect is related to the period in which units remain buoyant; and (5) the dispersal potential of saltmarsh species in wind wave-dominated coastal environments can be ordered as follows: E. athericus > S. maritimus > S. anglica > S. europaea. This study provides valuable guidance for future numerical hydrodynamic models of saltmarsh dispersal and establishment, allowing more accurate prediction of the distributional responses of saltmarsh species to climate change, thereby supporting appropriate management and restoration strategies.

KEY WORDS: Salt marsh · Seed dispersal · Dispersal unit · Buoyancy · Dispersal speed · Wave effect · Wind effect

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Cite this article as: Zhao Z, Zhang L, Yuan L, Bouma TJ (2021) Saltmarsh seeds in motion: the relative importance of dispersal units and abiotic conditions. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 678:63-79.

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