Salicornia virginica (common pickleweed) is the dominant vascular plant of many saline marshes of the US west coast, yet little is known about seasonal patterns or abiotic factors controlling it. In a southern California salt marsh, quarterly sampling revealed strong seasonal trends, with 2x greater S. virginica biomass in summer than in winter. Tissue nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations were highest in winter and lower in spring and summer, suggesting a dilution of nutrients as plants accumulated biomass during the growing season. Despite high sediment nutrient levels in this marsh, an experiment examining N and P effects still found strong S. virginica responses to N applied biweekly for >1 year. Increases in succulent tissue biomass after N addition were first seen in April 1998 (after fertilization for 11 months); two-fold increases in biomass and the number of branches resulted by the end of the experiment in August 1998. Addition of N increased N concentration in the woody tissues when sampled in August. The N:P ratio increased with N addition beginning in winter (7 months after fertilization began) and continuing through the remainder of the experiment. Effects of P addition were less marked, as adding P did not result in biomass responses; however, it did influence tissue nutrient levels. These amendments increased P concentrations in the woody tissue in August 1998. In contrast to N amendments, which did not affect root nutrient concentrations, P addition led to increases in P content of root tissues in the latter portion of the growing season. These data suggest that increases in nutrients (especially N, but also P) can lead to large changes in S. virginica characteristics even in estuaries with high sediment nutrient levels.
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Vol. 21 • No. 3