Interactive effects of elevation and burial with wrack on plant community structure in some Rhode Island salt marshes

J. Stephen Brewer, Jonathan M. Levine, Mark D. Bertness

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74 Scopus citations


1. The effects of disturbances and elevation on marsh plant communities were examined using experimental disturbances along an elevation gradient in marshes with different disturbance histories. In addition, differences in species composition among five marshes were determined at elevations at which the greatest concentration of burial by wrack occurred. 2. Experimental wrack burial generally caused significant mortality of the high-marsh competitive dominants, Juncus gerardi and Spartina patens, and strongly increased the abundance of the fugitive perennial, Distichlis spicata. 3. The effects of experimental wrack burial interacted strongly with abiotic factors associated with elevation to influence the distributions of both competitive dominants and annual fugitive plants. 4. Frequent wrack burial in a marsh appears to lead to a persistent assemblage of plants dominated by competitively subordinate fugitives. This assemblage of fugitives tends to occur at intermediate elevations within the marsh, where wrack gets stranded for long periods of time and where the resistance of Juncus gerardi to wrack burial is lowest. 5. We suggest that wrack-burial disturbances interact strongly with marsh elevation to influence the zonation of plants in New England salt marshes, and discuss some implications of our results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-136
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


  • A triplex patula
  • Competitive dominance
  • Distichlis spicata
  • Fugitives
  • Juncus gerardi
  • Salicornia europaea
  • Salinity
  • Seedling emergence
  • Spartina patens


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