Dendrochronology of Atriplex portulacoides and Artemisia maritima in Wadden Sea salt marshes

Decuyper, M.; Slim, P.A.; Loon-Steensma, J.M. van


The study uses a rather unusual method, dendrochronology, to investigate the growth and survival of Atriplex portulacoides L. and Artemisia maritima L. on salt marshes at two field sites on the Dutch North Sea barrier islands of Terschelling and Ameland. By providing information on longevity of these typical salt-marsh shrubs, dendrochronology offers an indirect way to investigate the influence of management regime – grazing in this case – on marsh quality and areal extent. Diminishment of salt marshes is a continuing concern in the northern Netherlands. The two shrub species studied here, A. portulacoides and A. maritima, are common to salt marshes. With their extensive roots and branches, they facilitate sedimentation and stabilize salt marshes. Using dendrochronology, this study found that annual growth rings could be identified to determine shrub age and growth. In A. portulacoides these rings took the form of a narrow band of terminal parenchyma. In A. maritima they were made up of unlignified marginal parenchyma together with higher vessel density at the beginning of the growing season. Growth rings indicated that intense grazing was clearly detrimental to the survival of A. portulacoides at the Terschelling site. However, grazing facilitated survival of A. maritima at the Ameland site by reducing light and nutrient competition from grasses. No growth trends could be found, however, as the lifespan for both species is short and many other influences on shrub growth could be identified.