Where temperate meets tropical: multi-factorial effects of elevated CO2, nitrogen enrichment, and competition on a mangrove-salt marsh community



    1. National Wetlands Research Center, US Geological Survey, 700 Cajundome Blvd, Lafayette, LA 70506, USA,
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    1. National Wetlands Research Center, US Geological Survey, 700 Cajundome Blvd, Lafayette, LA 70506, USA,
    2. Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, Watsonville, CA 95076, USA
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Karen L. McKee, tel. +1 337 266 8662, +1 337 266 8500, fax +1 337 266 8586, e-mail:


Our understanding of how elevated CO2 and interactions with other factors will affect coastal plant communities is limited. Such information is particularly needed for transitional communities where major vegetation types converge. Tropical mangroves (Avicennia germinans) intergrade with temperate salt marshes (Spartina alterniflora) in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and this transitional community represents an important experimental system to test hypotheses about global change impacts on critical ecosystems. We examined the responses of A. germinans (C3) and S. alterniflora (C4), grown in monoculture and mixture in mesocosms for 18 months, to interactive effects of atmospheric CO2 and pore water nitrogen (N) concentrations typical of these marshes. A. germinans, grown without competition from S. alterniflora, increased final biomass (35%) under elevated CO2 treatment and higher N availability. Growth of A. germinans was severely curtailed, however, when grown in mixture with S. alterniflora, and enrichment with CO2 and N could not reverse this growth suppression. A field experiment using mangrove seedlings produced by CO2- and N-enriched trees confirmed that competition from S. alterniflora suppressed growth under natural conditions and further showed that herbivory greatly reduced survival of all seedlings. Thus, mangroves will not supplant marsh vegetation due to elevated CO2 alone, but instead will require changes in climate, environmental stress, or disturbance to alter the competitive balance between these species. However, where competition and herbivory are low, elevated CO2 may accelerate mangrove transition from the seedling to sapling stage and also increase above- and belowground production of existing mangrove stands, particularly in combination with higher soil N.