Global Change and Response of Coastal Dune Plants to the Combined Effects of Increased Sand Accretion (Burial) and Nutrient Availability

Silvia Frosini, Claudio Lardicci, Elena Balestri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coastal dune plants are subjected to natural multiple stresses and vulnerable to global change. Some changes associated with global change could interact in their effects on vegetation. As vegetation plays a fundamental role in building and stabilizing dune systems, effective coastal habitat management requires a better understanding of the combined effects of such changes on plant populations. A manipulative experiment was conducted along a Mediterranean dune system to examine the individual and combined effects of increased sediment accretion (burial) and nitrogen enrichment associated with predicted global change on the performance of young clones of Sporobolus virginicus, a widespread dune stabilizing species. Increased burial severity resulted in the production of taller but thinner shoots, while nutrient enrichment stimulated rhizome production. Nutrient enrichment increased total plant biomass up to moderate burial levels (50% of plant height), but it had not effect at the highest burial level (100% of plant height). The effects of such factors on total biomass, shoot biomass and branching were influenced by spatial variation in natural factors at the scale of hundreds of metres. These results indicate that the effects of burial and nutrient enrichment on plant performance were not independent. Their combined effects may not be predicted by knowing the individual effects, at least under the study conditions. Under global change scenarios, increased nutrient input could alleviate nutrient stress in S. virginicus, enhancing clonal expansion and productivity, but this benefit could be offset by increased sand accretion levels equal or exceeding 100% of plant height. Depletion of stored reserves for emerging from sand could increase plant vulnerability to other stresses in the long-term. The results emphasize the need to incorporate statistical designs for detecting non-independent effects of multiple changes and adequate spatial replication in future works to anticipate the impact of global change on dune ecosystem functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere47561
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 15 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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