The southern Florida Everglades landscape sustains wetlands of national and international importance. Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense), the dominant macrophyte in the Everglades, has two phenotypes that vary in size and density between Everglades marl prairies and peat marshes. Marl prairies have recently been hypothesized to be a newly formed habitat developed after European colonization as a result of landscape-scale hydrologic modifications, implying that sawgrass marl phenotypes developed in response to the marl habitat. We examined whether sawgrass wetland phenotypes are plastic responses to marl and peat soils.
In a common-mesocosm experiment, seedlings from a single Everglades population were grown outdoors in field-collected marl or peat soils. Growth and morphology of plants were measured over 14 mo, while soil and leaf total nitrogen, total phosphorus, total carbon, and plant biomass and biomass allocation were determined in a final harvest.
Sawgrass plant morphology diverged in marl vs. peat soils, and variations in morphology and density of mesocosm-grown plants resembled differences seen in sawgrass plants growing in marl and peat habitats in Everglades wetlands. Additionally, sawgrass growing in marl made abundant dauciform roots, while dauciform root production of sawgrass growing in peat was correlated with soil total phosphorus.
Sawgrass from a single population grown in marl or peat soils can mimic sawgrass phenotypes associated with marl vs. peat habitats. This plasticity is consistent with the hypothesis that Everglades marl prairies are relatively new habitats that support plant communities assembled after European colonization and subsequent landscape modifications.
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Richards, Jennifer H. and Olivas, Paulo C., "A common-mesocosm experiment recreates sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) phenotypes from Everglades marl prairies and peat marshes" (2020). FCE LTER Journal Articles. 544.
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