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Distribution of saltmarsh plant communities associated with environmental factors along a latitudinal gradient on the south-west Atlantic coast

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Abstract Aim 

To produce an inventory of south-west Atlantic saltmarshes (from latitude 31°48′ S to 43°20′ S) using remotely sensed images and field sampling; to quantify their total area; to describe the biogeographical variation of the main habitats characterized by dominant vascular plants, in relation to major environmental factors; to test the hypothesis of predominance of the reversal pattern in plant distribution (sedges and grasses dominate the lower, regularly inundated zones, while the upper zones are occupied by more halophytic species) previously described; and to compare these south-west Atlantic saltmarshes with others world-wide. Location 

South-western Atlantic saltmarshes Methods 

Field samples of dominant emergent plant species positioned by the global positioning system (GPS) were obtained from most coastal saltmarshes (14) between southern Brazil and northern Patagonia, Argentina. Landsat satellite images were obtained and coastal saltmarsh habitats were quantified by supervised classification, utilizing points gathered in the field. Results 

Three main plant species dominated the low and middle intertidal saltmarsh, Spartina alterniflora Loesel., Spartina densiflora Brong. and Sarcocornia perennis (P. Mill.) A.J. Scott. The total area of the studied coastal saltmarshes was 2133 km2, comprising 380 km2 of Sp. alterniflora marsh, 366 km2 of Sp. densiflora marsh, 746 km2 of Sar. perennis marsh and 641 km2 of brackish marsh (dominated by Juncus acutus L., Juncus kraussii Hochst., Scirpus maritimus L., Scirpus americanus Pers. and Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin.). Cluster analysis showed three habitat types: saltmarshes dominated by (1) Sp. densiflora and brackish species,(2) Sp. alterniflora and Sar. perennis and (3) Sp.densiflora only. The analysis of abiotic variables showed significant differences between groups of habitats and coordinated gradients of the abiotic variables. The south-west Atlantic coast showed decreasing mean annual rainfall (1200 to 196 mm) and increasing mean tidal amplitude (< 0.5 to > 2.5 m) from latitude 31° to 43°. Main conclusions 

South-west Atlantic saltmarshes are globally important by virtue of their total extent. Remote sensing showed that the reversal pattern in plant distribution is not widespread. Indeed, south-west Atlantic saltmarshes are better characterized by the presence of the halophytic genera Spartina and Sarcocornia. Our results support the interpretation that south-west Atlantic saltmarshes constitute a class of temperate type (sensu Adam, 1990) with transitional characteristics between Australasian–South African saltmarshes and west Atlantic saltmarshes.
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Keywords: Argentina; Brazil; Sarcocornia; Spartina; Uruguay; coastal saltmarsh; south-west Atlantic coast; zonation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Laboratório de Ecologia Vegetal Costeira, Departamento de Oceanografia, Fundação Universidade Federal do Rio Grande, Rio Grande RS, Brazil 2: Sección Limnología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de la República, Montevideo, Uruguay

Publication date: May 1, 2006

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