Salinity thresholds for understory plants in coastal wetlands

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The effects of sea level rise and coastal saltwater intrusion on wetland plants can extend well above the high-tide line due to drought, hurricanes, and groundwater intrusion. Research has examined how coastal salt marsh plant communities respond to increased flooding and salinity, but more inland coastal systems have received less attention. The aim of this study was to identify whether ground layer plants exhibit threshold responses to salinity exposure. We used two vegetation surveys throughout the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula (APP) of North Carolina, USA to assess vegetation in a low elevation landscape (≤ 3.8 m) experiencing high rates of sea level rise (3–4 mm/year). We examined the primary drivers of community composition change using Non-metric Multidimensional Scaling (NMDS) and used Threshold Indicator Taxa Analysis (TITAN) to detect thresholds of compositional change based on indicator taxa, in response to potential indicators of exposure to saltwater (Na, and the Σ Ca + Mg) and elevation. Salinity and elevation explained 64% of the variation in community composition, and we found two salinity thresholds for both soil Na⁺ (265 and 3843 g Na⁺/g) and Ca⁺ + Mg⁺ (42 and 126 µeq/g) where major changes in community composition occur on the APP. Similar sets of species showed sensitivity to these different metrics of salt exposure. Overall, our results showed that ground layer plants can be used as reliable indicators of salinity thresholds in coastal wetlands. These results can be used for monitoring salt exposure of ecosystems and for identifying areas at risk for undergoing future community shifts.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Anderson, SM; Ury, EA; Taillie, PJ; Ungberg, EA; Moorman, CE; Poulter, B; Ardón, M; Bernhardt, ES; Wright, JP

Published Date

  • March 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 223 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 323 - 337

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1385-0237

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s11258-021-01209-2


  • eng