African Journal of Marine Science

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Plant traits and spread of the invasive salt marsh grass, Spartina alterniflora Loisel., in the Great Brak Estuary, South Africa

JB Adams, A Grobler, C Rowe, T Riddin, TG Bornman, DR Ayres


Spartina alterniflora Loisel., widely recognised as an aggressive invader of estuaries and salt marshes around the world, was discovered growing in the temporarily open/closed Great Brak Estuary on the southern Cape coast of South Africa in 2004. This is the first record of this invasive plant in Africa as well as its first occurrence in an estuary that closes to the sea. Plant traits and sediment characteristics were measured in 2009 and 2011 and found to be comparable to those reported elsewhere. Prior to the 2011 sampling, S. alterniflora stands had been flooded for almost eight months. As a result, sediment redox potential (-268 + 4 mV) was significantly lower in 2011. Sediments were mostly clay in 2009 (71 ± 0.01%) compared to a predominance of sand in 2011 (40 ± 0.02%). These differences were related to the artificial breaching of the estuary one month prior to sampling in March 2011. The grass currently occupies 1.1 ha in the salt marsh, sandflat and mudflat habitats of the estuary where its cover is expanding at a rate of 0.162 ha y–1. Individual stands numbered about 12 in 2006, but have increased to 24 in 2011. These stands are expanding laterally at 0.9 m y–1 although the long period of inundation during 2010 reduced this to 0.6 m y–1. Expansion is due to vegetative spread as an analysis of the sediment seed bank showed no S. alterniflora seeds and very few salt marsh seeds (1 132 seeds m–2). If left unchecked, S. alterniflora has the potential to replace 42.9 ha or 41% of the total estuary habitat in the Great Brak Estuary, but also has the potential to invade other estuaries in South Africa, especially those with extensive intertidal habitat and containing S. maritima (19 estuaries in total). This study illustrates the adaptive potential of this invasive marsh plant and indicates the possibility of invasion in seasonally closed estuaries in other locations around the world.

Keywords: biomass, closed estuary, cordgrass, expansion rate, habitat loss, intertidal habitat

African Journal of Marine Science 2012, 34(3): 313–322
AJOL African Journals Online