Interactions between plant traits and sediment characteristics influencing species establishment and scale-dependent feedbacks in salt marsh ecosystems

C. Schwarz*, T.J. Bouma, L.Q. Zhang, S. Temmerman, T. Ysebaert, P.M.J. Herman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


The importance of ecosystem engineering and biogeomorphic processes in shaping many aquatic and semi-aquatic landscapes is increasingly acknowledged. Ecosystem engineering and biogeomorphic landscape formation involves two critical processes: (1) species establishment, and (2) scale-dependent feedbacks, meaning that organisms improve their living conditions on a local scale but at the same time worsen them at larger scales. However, the influence of organism traits in combination with physical factors (e.g. hydrodynamics, sediments) on early establishment and successive development due to scale-dependent feedbacks is still unclear. As a model system, this was tested for salt marsh pioneer plants by conducting flume experiments: i) on the influence of species-specific traits (such as stiffness) of two contrasting dominant pioneer species (. Spartina alterniflora and Scirpus mariqueter) to withstand current-induced stress during establishment; and ii) to study the impact of species-specific traits (stiffness) and physical forcing (water level, current stress) on the large-scale negative feedback at established tussocks (induced scour at tussock edges) of the two model species.The results indicate that, not only do species-specific plant traits, such as stiffness, exert a major control on species establishment thresholds, but also potentially physiologically triggered plant properties, such as adapted root morphology due to sediment properties. Moreover, the results show a clear relation between species-specific plant traits, abiotics (i.e. sediment, currents) and the magnitude of the large-scale negative scale-dependent feedback. These findings suggest that the ecosystem engineering ability, resulting from physical plant properties can be disadvantageous for plant survival through promoted dislodgement (stem stiffness increases the amount of drag experienced at the root system), underlying the importance of scale-dependent feedbacks on landscape development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-307
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Biogeomorphology
  • Habitat modification
  • Saltmarsh
  • Scale dependent feedbacks
  • Sediment


Dive into the research topics of 'Interactions between plant traits and sediment characteristics influencing species establishment and scale-dependent feedbacks in salt marsh ecosystems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this