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Lateral Hydrological Connectivity Driven by Tidal Flooding Regulates Range-Expansion of Invasive Spartina alterniflora in Tidal Channel-Salt Marsh Systems

Z. H. Ning1,2, C. Chen3, S. Y. Zhang4, A. D. Wang4, Q. Wang3, T. Xie1,2 *, J. H. Bai1,2, and B. S. Cui1,2 *

  1. School of Environment, State Key Joint Laboratory of Environmental Simulation and Pollution Control, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  2. Yellow River Estuary Wetland Ecosystem Observation and Research Station, Ministry of Education, Shandong 257500, China
  3. Research and Development Center for Watershed Environmental Eco-Engineering, Advanced Institute of Natural Science and School of Environment, Beijing Normal University at Zhuhai, Guangdong 519087, China
  4. Shandong Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve Administration Committee, Shandong 257091, China

*Corresponding author. Tel: +86 010-58802079; Fax: +86 010-58802079 E-mail address: (B. Cui);
E-mail address: (T. Xie)


Understanding how hydrological features affect habitat invasibility is crucial for predicting whether variations of such hydrological features may act as important inducement regulating range-expansion of invasive species in tidal channel-salt marsh systems. Although lateral hydrological connectivity (LC), or the hydrological connections between tidal channels and adjacent marsh flats, is an important hydrological feature, its effect on plant invasion has rarely been studied in depth. Here, we examined the effects of lateral hydrological connectivity on range-expansion of Spartina alterniflora (S. alterniflora) in tidal channel margins of a typical tidal channel-salt marsh system, in the Yellow River Delta, China. Field surveys and transplanting experiments showed that high LC greatly favors S. alterniflora to expand its invasion ranges along tidal channel margins by mediating such habitat physical forms of stress as soil salinity, soil moisture and soil hardness. In contrast, low LC, exacerbates those forms of stress, thereby significantly checking the lateral expansion of S. alterniflora. Moreover, human-made and naturally formed geomorphic structures in salt marshes (e.g., artificial ditches, pools, and hollow microtopography), particularly at high elevations, could potentially enhance LC over time, thereby making such sites prone to invasion by S. alterniflora. These results highlight the importance of lateral hydrological connectivity as an essential driver to regulate S. alterniflora lateral expansion along with the tidal channels. Our results imply that considering the relationships between hydrological processes and spread processes of exotic species should be incorporated into future management frameworks for risk assessment and ecological control of invasive plant species.

Keywords: biological invasion, hydrological connectivity, tidal channel margins; smooth cordgrass, invasive plant, management of salt marsh

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