Estuaries and Coasts
School of Science
Edith Cowan University
For many plants, regeneration from seed is vital for population recovery. Climate change is modifying the global hydrological cycle and a primary factor controlling germination of marine plants: salinity. How altered salinity regimes, and especially altered porewater salinity regimes, will regulate early life history stages of estuarine seagrasses is poorly understood. Here, we quantified the porewater salinity dynamics in two ephemeral estuaries that are dominated by the cosmopolitan genus Ruppia. Seedbank, germlings (germinated seeds) and seedlings were found in salinities ranging from 5 to 110 over an annual cycle. To understand the germination ecology of the dominant species, Ruppia polycarpa, seeds were exposed to treatments simulating current salinity regimes and those predicted under climate change. Seeds underwent a Dormancy treatment (15, 60, 150) followed by a Germination treatment (10, 20, 80). Generally, early life history stages were positively affected by hypersaline dormancy conditions if the subsequent Germination salinity was ≤ 20. Germination success was significantly higher for seeds transferred to 10 (65%) compared to 20 (49%) whilst no seeds germinated in 80 highlighting the risk of lower germination as estuaries become drier and more hypersaline with declining winter rainfall. However, germlings were found in situ in salinities ≥ 80 suggesting aspects of the salinity dynamics, not captured by our experimental conditions, may broaden tolerances. Dormant seeds were continuously present in situ and seedlings were observed throughout the whole of the growing season. These results are indicative of bet-hedging strategies. Future research should explore the capacity of these strategies to afford resilience to R. polycarpa to salinity variability under climate change.
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