Flood tolerance and the distribution of Iva frutescens across New England salt marshes

Mark D. Bertness, Karen Wikler, Tom Chatkupt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Tidal flooding is widely believed to be an important determinant of marsh plant distributions but has rarely been tested in the field. In New England the marsh elder Iva frutescens often dominates the terrestrial border of salt marshes and we examined its flood tolerance and distribution patterns. Marsh elders only occur at elevations where their roots are not subject to prolonged water table flooding. Consequently they are found on the terrestrial border of marshes and at lower elevations associated with drainage ditches and locally elevated surfaces. Marsh elders transplanted to elevations lower than they normally occur died within a year with or without neighbors and greenhouse tests revealed that I. frutescens is much less tolerant of flooded soil conditions than plants found at lower marsh elevations. We also manipulated the water table level of field plots and found that increasing or decreasing water table drainage led to enhanced and diminished I. frutescens performance, respectively. Our results demonstrate the importance of water table dynamics in generating spatial patterns in marsh plant communities and provide further evidence that supports the hypothesis that the seaward distributional limits of marsh plant populations are generally dictated by physical processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-178
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Flooding
  • Halophytic plants
  • Iva frutescens
  • Salt marsh ecology
  • Wetland plant communities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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