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1 March 2006 Direct and indirect effects of salt spray and fire on coastal heathland plant physiology and community composition
Megan E. Griffiths, Robin P. Keith, Colin M. Orians
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Coastal sandplain heathlands are managed largely by prescribed burning. While it is known that salt spray is an important natural disturbance contributing to the maintenance of coastal heathlands, it is unclear whether fire in coastal areas intensifies the detrimental effects of salt spray on plants growing close to the ocean. We carried out a field experiment to test the interactive effects of fire and salt spray on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Following a prescribed fire, one-meter-square plots were established in burned and unburned areas and randomly assigned a control or salt spray treatment. After ten weeks of spray treatments we found that burning stimulated new growth and salt spray consistently increased plant water stress, increased leaf necrosis, and inhibited shoot elongation. Burning did not increase the negative effects of salt spray in individual plants; salt spray and control treated plants growing in burned areas showed less water stress and leaf necrosis than those in unburned areas. This may be due to increased water availability in the burned area resulting from lower biomass and therefore lower competition for water and lower evapotranspiration rates. Burning reduced plant canopy height, decreased vascular plant species richness, and stimulated new growth in plants. Our results suggest that fire indirectly reduces the damaging effects of salt spray by increasing soil water availability and decreasing plant water stress.

Megan E. Griffiths, Robin P. Keith, and Colin M. Orians "Direct and indirect effects of salt spray and fire on coastal heathland plant physiology and community composition," Rhodora 108(933), 32-42, (1 March 2006).
Published: 1 March 2006

disturbance regime
physiological responses
prescribed burning
vascular plant community structure
Water balance
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