• competitive intensity;
  • interspecific competition;
  • marsh elevation gradient;
  • Puccinellia maritima;
  • Relative Neighbour Effect;
  • Spartina anglica


1 Artificial environmental gradients were established in a series of pot experiments to investigate the effect of salinity, sediment type and waterlogging on the growth, and interactions between Spartina anglica and Puccinellia maritima. In each experiment, one environmental variable was manipulated and plants grown in pairwise combinations to examine the effect of the environmental factor on the intensity of intra- and interspecific interactions, quantified using the Relative Neighbour Effect (RNE) index.

2Puccinellia was found to exert an asymmetric, one-way competitive dominance above ground over Spartina in experiments where gradients of sediment type and waterlogging were established. The intensity of the competition was highest in conditions with the least abiotic stress and lower or non-existent where stress was increased.

3 The intensity of the above-ground competition was greatest in loam and least in sand sediments. Reduction in competitive intensity in sand was accompanied by an increase in below-ground Spartina biomass and it is suggested that the production of rhizomes is a potential mechanism by which this species can expand vegetatively into areas without competition.

4 Interspecific competition on Spartina from Puccinellia also varied in intensity in the waterlogging experiment, being more intense in non-immersed treatments, where abiotic stress was reduced.

5 The competitive dominance of Puccinellia and the competition avoidance mechanism shown by Spartina in these experiments help to explain the successional interactions between the species along environmental gradients in natural salt marsh communities.