Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Does salinity reduce the tolerance of two contrasting wetland plants, the submerged monocot Vallisneria australis and the woody shrub Melaleuca ericifolia, to wetting and drying?

Jacqueline Salter A C , Kay Morris A and Paul I. Boon B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia.

B Institute for Sustainability and Innovation, Victoria University, St Albans, Vic. 3021, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 59(4) 291-303
Submitted: 14 August 2007  Accepted: 26 February 2008   Published: 15 May 2008


Adverse hydrological regimes and secondary salinisation are ubiquitous stressors to wetland plants in south-eastern Australia. To test whether salinity stress interacts with hydrological stress to affect the growth and survival of aquatic plants, we examined the responses of Melaleuca ericifolia Smith, a shrub favouring drained sites, and the obligately submerged monocot Vallisneria australis (S.W.L. Jacobs & D.H. Les) to different hydrological regimes under freshwater and saline conditions. Under freshwater conditions both species recovered from water regimes that were considered prima facie unsuitable to their growth form: M. ericifolia from 5 and 10 weeks of submersion, and V. australis from a simulated water-level drawdown and exposure to air. Salinity, however, markedly compromised the survival of M. ericifolia after it was re-exposed following submersion. Salinity not only reduced the recovery of V. australis after its release from a period of drying that desiccated aboveground organs, but prohibited recovery when the soil dried out. We conclude that M. ericifolia and V. australis can tolerate short periods of submergence and drying, respectively, under freshwater conditions, but that salinity compromises the ability of both taxa to recover from water regimes that, based on the plant’s growth form, would be considered unsuitable for long-term survival and growth.

Additional keywords: drawdown and flooding patterns, wetland conservation and management.


We thank Dr Surrey Jacobs from the Sydney Herbarium for advice on the classification of Vallisneria spp., Sheila Hamilton-Brown for technical assistance and Dr Murray Logan for statistical advice. Thanks also to Dr Jennifer Read and two anonymous referees for suggestions included in the manuscript. Kind assistance was provided by Jane Sarkady and Elissa Bell during the two plant harvests and by Jonathan Fawcett in the laboratory. This research was supported by a Land and Water Australia postgraduate scholarship to Jacqueline Salter and an innovations grant from Land and Water Australia to Paul Boon.


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