Freshwater input drives invasion success of exotic plants in saltmarsh communities

Ina Geedicke*, Anthony Manea, Jens Oldeland, Michelle R. Leishman

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    While saltmarsh communities are endangered in many parts of the world due to anthropogenic impact, the risk of invasion by exotic plants is considered to be low because of their saline conditions. However, in urban areas, saltmarshes receive high nutrient freshwater input through stormwater discharge. We tested if invasion of saltmarsh by exotic plant species was facilitated by increased nutrients and reduced salinity associated with urban stormwater input. In a manipulative glasshouse experiment, we grew saltmarsh communities under four treatments: high salinity–low nutrients (control), high salinity–high nutrients, low salinity–low nutrients and low salinity–high nutrients. We then invaded the saltmarsh communities with four common invasive exotic plants. Their survival rates were monitored weekly for seven weeks before final harvesting. All exotic species showed significantly higher survival in the ‘low salinity’ treatment compared to the ‘high salinity’ treatment. There was variability among species, with three of four having low survival rates (0–3%) under ‘high salinity’ conditions, while survival of Protasparagus aethiopicus was reduced to only 53–59%. Our findings suggest that under natural conditions of saltmarshes, the establishment of exotic plant seedlings is restricted. Additional freshwater increased the survival of invading exotic species significantly, whereas adding nutrients increased biomass production but not necessarily survival of exotics. However, the results can be highly species dependant as shown by the unexpected salinity tolerance of P. aethiopicus. Reduction in salinity of saltmarsh due to stormwater input facilitates invasion by exotic plant species that would otherwise be unable to tolerate the highly saline environment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)713-721
    Number of pages9
    JournalAustral Ecology
    Issue number5
    Early online date23 Feb 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


    • greenhouse
    • nutrients
    • salinity
    • stormwater
    • survival rates
    • urban pollution


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