Vertical zonation and niche breadth of tidal marsh plants along the Northeast Pacific coast

Janousek, C. N., Thorne, K. M., & Takekawa, J. Y. (2018). Vertical Zonation and Niche Breadth of Tidal Marsh Plants Along the Northeast Pacific Coast. Estuaries and Coasts. doi:10.1007/s12237-018-0420-9
Year Published

The distribution patterns of sessile organisms in coastal intertidal habitats typically exhibit vertical zonation, but little is known about variability in zonation among sites or species at larger spatial scales. Data on such heterogeneity could inform mechanistic understanding of factors affecting species distributions as well as efforts to assess and manage coastal species and habitat vulnerability to sea-level rise. Using data on the vertical distribution of common plant species at 12 tidal marshes across the US Pacific coast, we examined heterogeneity in patterns of zonation to test whether distributions varied by site, species, or latitude. Interspecific zonation was evident at most sites, but the vertical niches of co-occurring common species often overlapped considerably. The median elevation of most species varied across marshes, with site-specific differences in marsh elevation profiles more important than differences in latitude that reflect regional climate gradients. Some common species consistently inhabited lower or higher elevations relative to other species, but others varied among sites. Vertical niche breadth varied more than twofold among species. These results indicate that zonation varies by both site and species at the regional scale, and highlight the potential importance of local marsh elevation profiles to plant vertical distributions. Furthermore, they suggest that coastal foundation species such as marsh plants may differ in their vulnerability to sea-level rise by being restricted to specific elevation zones or by occurring in narrow vertical niches.