Fluctuating soil salinity and competition for light are the main factors affecting plant distribution and performance in coastal salt marshes. The aim of the present study was to assess plant performance by means of non-destructive instrumental methods in a highly heterogeneous natural habitat. More specifically, environmental factors affecting growth and physiological performance of a clonal plant Hydrocotyle vulgaris L. were investigated. Changes in soil salinity, soil mineral characteristics, leaf nutrient concentrations, morphological parameters, chlorophyll fluorescence, and mycorrhizal symbiosis were analysed in different experimental plots of naturally growing H. vulgaris plants. The dynamic nature of interaction between sea water flooding-affected changes in soil salinity and competition-dependent changes in light availability led to micro-environmental heterogeneity differentially affecting physiological performance and growth of H. vulgaris in natural conditions. Plant growth was mostly affected by intensity of photosynthetically active radiation in the respective plots. Increased growth rate in shaded conditions specifically pointed to shade tolerance strategy of H. vulgaris. High heterogeneity of mineral nutrients between the plots was established. However, considerable plasticity of metabolism in respect to highly variable soil concentration of mineral nutrients together with effective mineral adaptation mechanisms ensured optimal supply of material for growth. Photochemistry of photosynthesis was only marginally affected by differences in microenvironmental conditions as shown by respective changes in chlorophyll a fluorescence parameters. Mycorrhizal symbiosis was stimulated by moderately increasing soil salinity and suppressed by relatively high salinity. When the effect of soil salinity was omitted, intensity of mycorrhizal symbiosis was positively associated with intensity of photo-synthetically active radiation. In general, a relatively high stable level of photosynthetic performance across a wide range of micro-environmental conditions indicates an adequate level of physiological adaptation of H. vulgaris to conditions of a coastal salt marsh. The present data clearly reflect complex interactions between environmental factors and plastic physiological responses of H. vulgaris.

Publication timeframe:
6 times per year
Journal Subjects:
General Interest, Mathematics, General Mathematics