Ecosystem engineering creates a new path to resilience in plants with contrasting growth strategies

Type Article
Date 2019-12
Language English
Author(s) Soissons Laura1, 4, Van Katwijk Marieke M.1, 2, Li Baoquan3, Han Qiuying3, Ysebaert Tom1, Herman Peter M. J.1, 5, Bouma Tjeerd J.1
Affiliation(s) 1 : Department of Estuarine and Delta Systems (EDS), NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea ResearchUtrecht , UniversityYerseke,The Netherlands
2 : Department of Environmental Sciences, Institute for Wetland and Water Research, Faculty of Science, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
3 : Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone Research-Chinese Academy of Sciences (YIC-CAS), Shandong, China
4 : MARBEC, Univ. Montpellier-CNRS-Ifremer-IRD, Sète, France
5 : Deltares, Delft, The Netherlands
Source Oecologia (0029-8549) (Springer Science and Business Media LLC), 2019-12 , Vol. 191 , N. 4 , P. 1015-1024
DOI 10.1007/s00442-019-04544-4
WOS© Times Cited 3
Keyword(s) Recovery from disturbance, Resistance to stress, Seagrass, Sulphide intrusion

Plant species can be characterized by different growth strategies related to their inherent growth and recovery rates, which shape their responses to stress and disturbance. Ecosystem engineering, however, offers an alternative way to cope with stress: modifying the environment may reduce stress levels. Using an experimental study on two seagrass species with contrasting traits, the slow-growing Zostera marina vs. the fast-growing Zostera japonica, we explored how growth strategies versus ecosystem engineering may affect their resistance to stress (i.e. addition of organic material) and recovery from disturbance (i.e. removal of above-ground biomass). Ecosystem engineering was assessed by measuring sulphide levels in the sediment porewater, as seagrass plants can keep sulphide levels low by aerating the rhizosphere. Consistent with predictions, we observed that the fast-growing species had a high capacity to recover from disturbance. It was also more resistant to stress and still able to maintain high standing stock with increasing stress levels because of its ecosystem engineering capacity. The slow-growing species was not able to maintain its standing stock under stress, which we ascribe to a weak capacity for ecosystem engineering regarding this particular stress. Overall, our study suggests that the combination of low-cost investment in tissues with ecosystem engineering to alleviate stress creates a new path in the growth trade-off between investment in strong tissues or fast growth. It does so by being both fast in recovery and more resistant. As such low-cost ecosystem engineering may occur in more species, we argue that it should be considered in assessing plant resilience.

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