Phragmites australis meets Suaeda salsa on the “red beach”: Effects of an ecosystem engineer on salt-marsh litter decomposition

Lijuan Cui, Xu Pan*, Wei Li, Xiaodong Zhang, Guofang Liu, Yao Bin Song, Fei Hai Yu, Andreas Prinzing, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    25 Downloads (Pure)


    Suaeda salsa is a pioneer species in coastal wetlands of East Asia and recently an ecosystem engineer species, Phragmites australis, has started to enter into S. salsa communities owing to either autogenic or external drivers. The consequences of this phenomenon on the ecosystem functions of coastal wetlands are still unclear, especially for decomposition processes. Here we compared the decomposition rate of S. salsa litter, and associated litter chemistry dynamics, between sites with and without P. australis encroachment. We conducted a litter transplantation experiment to tease apart the effects of litter quality and decomposing environment or decomposer community composition. Our results showed that P. australis encroachment led to higher carbon and phosphorus losses of S. salsa litter, but equal losses of total mass, lignin, hemicellulose and nitrogen. Phragmites australis encroachment might affect decomposition rate indirectly by making S. salsa produce litter with higher lignin concentrations or via increasing the fungal diversity for decomposition. Moreover, P. australis as an ecosystem engineer might also alter the allocation of total phosphorus between the plants and the soils in coastal wetlands. Our findings indicate that P. australis could impact aboveground and belowground carbon and nutrient dynamics in coastal wetlands, and highlight the important consequences that encroaching plant species, especially ecosystem engineers, can have on ecosystem functions and services of coastal wetlands, not only in East Asia but probably also elsewhere in the world.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number133477
    Pages (from-to)1-8
    Number of pages8
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Early online date18 Jul 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2019


    This work was funded by National Key Research and Development Program of China ( 2017YFC0506200 ), and China Postdoctoral Science Foundation ( 2015M571161 ). J.H.C.C. received support from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW, Chinese Exchange Programme grant 12CDP007) for research exchange travels to China. We thank the Liaohe Estuary National Nature Reserve for the research permit and thank Jing Li and Xiufang Xie for the manuscript preparation. Many thanks to Ye Liu, Baodi Sun, Kai Li and Xiaoquan Na for the field assistant. We also thank the anonymous referees for constructive comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare. Appendix A

    FundersFunder number
    Liaohe Estuary National Nature Reserve
    Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen12CDP007
    China Postdoctoral Science Foundation2015M571161
    National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program)2017YFC0506200


      • Aboveground and belowground processes
      • Carbon and nutrient cycling
      • Ecosystem engineer
      • Litter decomposition
      • Plant encroachment
      • Salt marsh


      Dive into the research topics of 'Phragmites australis meets Suaeda salsa on the “red beach”: Effects of an ecosystem engineer on salt-marsh litter decomposition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

      Cite this