Do competition and selective herbivory cause replacement of Phragmites australis by tall forbs?

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We investigated the role of biotic factors in determining abundance of the low marsh species Phragmites australis and the high marsh species Epilobium hirsutum. In a 2-year field experiment, at a position where Phragmites and Epilobium co-occurred, responses of both species to each other's removal were measured. In the second year, we also tested if larvae of Archanara geminipuncta, which feed exclusively on Phragmites shoots, affect the competitive ability of Phragmites relative to Epilobium. For both species, removal of aboveground material by clipping did not enhance shoot size or decrease variability in shoot size of the removed species itself. Surprisingly however, shoot numbers of both species increased after removal of the other, which demonstrates that there was a mutual inhibition of each other's abundance. Comparing the responses of Archanara-infested and non-infested Phragmites shoots revealed no increased competitive suppression by Epilobium due to selective herbivory. Instead, we found that herbivore activity was lower in plots with Epilobium, which demonstrates that Archanara population size is reduced by the presence of non-host plant species. These results contradict the common assumption that biotic factors constrain a species upper limit along flooding gradients. Instead, our result suggest that different biotic interactions may counteract each other and thus slow down replacement by successive species. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-232
JournalAquatic Botany
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • marsh plant zonation
  • salt-marsh
  • population-dynamics
  • community structure
  • nutrient dynamics
  • diverse habitats
  • insect herbivore
  • field experiment
  • shoot density
  • clonal plant


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