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Keywords:

  • biofuel;
  • Carrizo grande;
  • conductance;
  • ecophysiology;
  • photosynthesis;
  • stomata;
  • wetland

Abstract

Arundo donax L., commonly known as giant reed, is promising biomass feedstock that is also a notorious invasive plant in freshwater ecosystems around the world. Heretofore, the salt tolerance of A. donax had not been quantified even though anecdotal evidence suggests halophytic qualities. To test whole-plant and leaf level responses, we established a pot experiment on 80 scions propagated from an A. donax population that has naturalized on the shore of the San Francisco Bay Estuary. To quantify growth and physiological responses to salinity (NaCl), A. donax scions were divided into eight treatments and grown for 60 days across a range of salinities (0–42 dS m−1). Classic growth analysis showed >80% reduction in overall growth at the highest salinities. Yet, there was zero mortality indicating that A. donax is able to tolerate high levels of salt. Declining photosynthesis rates were strongly correlated (R2 > 0.97) with decreasing stomatal conductance, which was in turn closely related to increasing salinity. Leaf gas exchange revealed that stomata and leaf limitations of carbon dioxide were three times greater at high salinities. Nonetheless, even when salinities were 38–42 dS m−1 A. donax was able to maintain assimilation rates 7–12 μmol m−2 s−1. Further, by maintaining 50% relative growth at salinities ~12 dS m−1 A. donax can now be classified as ‘moderately salt tolerant’. A. donax leaf gas exchange and whole-plant salt tolerance are greater than many important food crops (i.e. maize, rice), the bioenergy feedstock Miscanthus × giganteus, as well as some uncultivated plant species (i.e. Populus and Salix) that are indigenous in regions A. donax currently invades. The results of this study have implications for both agronomists wishing to expand A. donax to fields dominated by saline soils, and for others who are concerned about the spread of A. donax with altered stream hydrology or sea-level rise.