Effects of litter accumulation and water table on morphology and productivity of Phragmites australis

O.A. Clevering

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    Phragmites australis (Common reed) occurs in the interface between water and land. The water depth gradient from deep water to dry land is inversely related to litter accumulation. Eutrophication can result in an excessive production of litter, which may have a large impact on the occurrence of P. australis in this gradient. In an outdoor pot experiment, it was investigated how water tables in combination with substrates containing variable amounts of litter affect morphology and productivity of P. australis. Vegetatively propagated P. australis was grown in pots filled with river sand, litter, and different mixtures of sand and litter (25, 50 and 75% by volume). Four water table treatments were applied; drained (–12 cm), waterlogged (0 cm), flooded (+12 cm), and weekly fluctuating drained and flooded conditions (–12/+12 cm of water relative to substrate level). When drained, no differences between substrate treatments were present. Waterlogging, flooding fluctuating water table treatments caused growth reduction in substrate containing litter. The plants formed short shoots and thin rhizomes. With increasing water table, allocation of dry matter to stems increased at the expense of leaves and rhizomes. At intermediate levels of litter in the substrate, allocation to leaves was lowest. In both instances a lower leaf weight ratio (LWR) was (partly) compensated for by a higher specific leaf area (SLA), resulting in less pronounced differences in leaf area ratio (LAR). Aquatic roots developed when plants were waterlogged or flooded, and increased when litter was present in the substrate. Aquatic roots were formed in the top soil layer when waterlogged. The percentage of aquatic roots increased with increasing amount of litter in the substrate when plants were flooded. It was concluded that the morphological responses of P. australis to litter strongly constrain its ability to maintain itself in deep water when the substrate contains litter. This might one of the explanations for the disappearance of P. australis along the waterward side of littoral zones. [KEYWORDS: biomass allocation; die-back; emergent macrophytes; eutrophication; reduced soil conditions]
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)275-287
    JournalWetlands Ecology and Management
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1998




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