Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Estuaries and Coasts


Sea level rise is expected to push saline waters into previously fresher regions of estuaries, and higher salinities may expose oligohaline marshes to invertebrate herbivores typically constrained by salinity. The smooth cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora (syn. Sporobolus alterniflorus), can defend itself against herbivores in polyhaline marshes, however it is not known if S. alterniflora’s defense varies along the mesohaline to oligohaline marsh gradient in estuaries. I found that S. alterniflora from a mesohaline marsh is better defended than plants from an oligohaline marsh, supporting the optimal defense theory. Higher salinity treatments lowered carbon content, C:N, and new stem biomass production, traits associated with a tolerance strategy, suggesting that salinity may mediate the defense response of S. alterniflora. Further, simulated herbivory increased the nitrogen content and decreased C:N of S. alterniflora. This indicates that grazing may increase S. alterniflora susceptibility to future herbivory via improved forage quality. Simulated herbivory also decreased both belowground and new stem biomass production, highlighting a potential pathway in which herbivory can indirectly facilitate marsh loss, as S. alterniflora biomass is critical for vertical accretion and marsh stability under future sea level rise scenarios.


doi: 10.1007/s12237-020-00841-x


Functional traits, plant defense strategy, resistance, salt marsh

Publication Statement

Accepted manuscript version.

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