Drivers of plant traits that allow survival in wetlands

Yingji Pan, Ellen Cieraad, Beverley R. Clarkson, Timothy D. Colmer, Ole Pedersen, Eric J. W. Visser, Laurentius A.C.J. Voesenek, Peter M. van Bodegom

Wetland ecosystems, including bogs, fens, peatlands and shallow lakes, vary in their water and nutrient supply features, but a common feature among those wetlands is the lack of oxygen caused by high water tables. This lack of oxygen causes lower plant productivity and the accumulation of toxic compounds and ultimately lower survival rates. To cope with these adverse conditions, wetland plants have developed a suite of adaptive traits. Among these traits, root porosity, root/shoot ratio and underwater photosynthetic rate are well-studied for their ecological roles in alleviating oxygen shortage and hence adaptation to wetlands. Previous studies on these adaptive traits were often limited to experimental conditions only or to comparisons within local species pools. A comprehensive analysis of generic drivers of these adaptive traits is still lacking.

In this study, we were able to explore these drivers at a broader spatial scale thanks to a newly compiled wetland plant trait dataset. We observed that root porosity was mainly affected by temperature and hydrology (e.g. waterlogged or flooded), root/shoot ratio by climate and habitat type (e.g. fen or bog) and underwater photosynthesis by precipitation and life form (e.g. floating or submerged leaves). Our quantitative relationships between wetland adaptive traits and environmental drivers will make it easier to take these adaptive traits into account in global models on important environment impacts, such as the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from wetlands.  Moreover, our results indicate that plants may adopt multiple strategies to facilitate their survival in wetlands.

Read the paper in full here.

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