Date of this Version


Document Type

Letter to the Editor


Evidence is mounting that climate-driven shifts in environmental conditions can elicit organismal evolution, yet there are sparingly few long-term records that document the tempo and progression of responses, particularly for plants capable of transforming ecosystems. In this study, we “resurrected” cohorts of a foundational coastal marsh sedge (Schoenoplectus americanus) from a time-stratified seed bank to reconstruct a century-long record of heritable variation in response to salinity exposure. Common-garden experiments revealed that S. americanus exhibits heritable variation in phenotypic traits and biomass-based measures of salinity tolerance. We found that responses to salinity exposure differed among the revived cohorts, with plants from the early 20th century exhibiting greater salinity tolerance than those from the mid to late 20th century. Fluctuations in salinity tolerance could reflect stochastic variation but a congruent record of genotypic variation points to the alternative possibility that the loss and gain in functionality are driven by selection, with comparisons to historical rainfall and paleosalinity records suggesting that selective pressures vary according to shifting estuarine conditions. Because salinity tolerance in S. americanus is tightly coupled to primary productivity and other vital ecosystem attributes, these findings indicate that organismal evolution merits further consideration as a factor shaping coastal marsh responses to climate change.