Wave effects on seedling establishment of three pioneer marsh species: Survival, morphology and biomechanics

Haobing Cao, Zhenchang Zhu, Rebecca James, Peter M.J. Herman, Liquan Zhang, Lin Yuan*, Tjeerd J. Bouma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and Aims
It is important to have an in-depth mechanistic understanding of tidal marsh establishment and dynamics to ensure the long-term persistence of these valuable ecosystems. As wave forcing may be expected to impact seedling establishment, we studied the effect of water-imposed drag forces on seedling survival, morphology and biomechanical properties of three marsh pioneer species that are dominant along the salinity gradient in many areas around the world: Spartina anglica (salt to brackish), Scirpus maritimus (brackish) and Phragmites australis (brackish to fresh).

Using a newly developed plant-shaking mesocosm (PSM) that mimicked water-imposed wave drag forces, the effect of wave stress on seedling survival was examined, together with impacts on morphology and biomechanical properties.

Key Results
After 7 weeks of exposure to wave stress, lowered seedling survival and growth for all species was revealed. Wave treatments increased the root/shoot biomass ratio to enhance anchorage and made seedlings more flexible (i.e. reduced flexural rigidity), which might be regarded as a mixed outcome between a stress avoidance and stress tolerance strategy.

The different biomechanical responses between the three dominant marsh pioneer species, overall, make them less resistant to external stress. Therefore, our results indicate that the likelihood of marshes becoming established is reduced if wave energy increases. Despite the different biomechanical response of these three pioneer species to waves, the seedlings of all species were found to have low resistance to external stresses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-352
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2020


  • Biomechanical response
  • Establishment
  • Phragmites australis
  • Scirpus maritimus
  • Seedling
  • Spartina anglica
  • Tidal marshes
  • Wave effects


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