The presence of submerged macrophytes is a desired environmental target for coastal freshwater ecosystems. Maintaining a rich community of these species can be challenging as salinisation by sea-level rise poses an increasing threat to ecosystem integrity. We tested the effect of salinisation on the growth and germination of freshwater macrophytes experimentally using field sediment. In a 56-day experiment, a macrophyte community was exposed to salinity treatments representing seasonal water management scenarios (a decreasing salinity from 1,500 to 300 mg NaCl/L, a stable salinity of 300 mg NaCl/L, an increasing salinity from 300 to 1,500 mg NaCl/L and a stable salinity of 1,500 mg NaCl/L), crossed with treatments simulating periodic turbidity pulses. All species except Elodea nuttallii grew poorly on the saline and eutrophic sediment, reflecting the challenges of growth in eutrophic coastal systems. Surprisingly, the highest community biomass was achieved in the salinity scenario of 1,500 mg NaCl/L. In a second experiment, field-collected sediments were incubated at 300 and 1,500 mg NaCl/L salinity (representing summer and winter scenarios), and the germination capacity of the existing seedbank was quantified. Most germinated seedlings did not reach maturity irrespective of salinity treatment. This indicated that sediment salinity, rather than water column salinity, determined seedling establishment success. Interestingly, the established species were characteristic of freshwater habitats, thus indicating maladaptation of the seedbank. Our results show that a mismatch between the high salinity level of eutrophic sediment and the overlaying freshwater may hamper macrophyte growth. Furthermore, target species in coastal eutrophic freshwaters should be evaluated carefully. Elodea nuttalli, which has a wide tolerance range for nutrients and salinity, outperformed other macrophyte species in our study. Thus, species with similar traits may be most successful in establishing macrophyte stands in coastal eutropic wetlands.
- coastal freshwater ecosystem
- submerged macrophytes
- turbidity pulses
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