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Funded in part by the VCU Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.

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October 2019


Sand dunes are important geomorphic formations of coastal ecosystems that are critical in protecting human populations that live in coastal areas. Dune formation is driven by ecomorphodynamic interactions between vegetation and sediment deposition. While there has been extensive research on responses of dune grasses to sand burial, there is a knowledge gap in understanding mechanisms of acclimation between similar, coexistent, dune-building grasses such as Ammophila breviligulata (C3), Spartina patens (C4), and Uniola paniculata (C4). Our goal was to determine how physiological mechanisms of acclimation to sand burial vary between species. We hypothesize that (1) in the presence of burial, resource allocation will be predicated on photosynthetic pathway and that we will be able to characterize the C3 species as a root allocator and the C4 species as leaf allocators. We also hypothesize that (2) despite similarities between these species in habitat, growth form, and life history, leaf, root, and whole plant traits will vary between species when burial is not present. Furthermore, when burial is present, the existing variability in physiological strategy will drive species-specific mechanisms of survival. In a greenhouse experiment, we exposed three dune grass species to different burial treatments: 0 cm (control) and a one-time 25-cm burial to mimic sediment deposition during a storm. At the conclusion of our study, we collected a suite of physiological and morphological functional traits. Results showed that Ammophila decreased allocation to aboveground biomass to maintain root biomass, preserving photosynthesis by allocating nitrogen (N) into light-exposed leaves. Conversely, Uniola and Spartina decreased allocation to belowground production to increase elongation and maintain aboveground biomass. Interestingly, we found that species were functionally distinct when burial was absent; however, all species became more similar when treated with burial. In the presence of burial, species utilized functional traits of rapid growth strategy, although mechanisms of change were interspecifically variable.


© 2018 The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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