Do interspecific competition and salinity explain plant zonation in a tropical estuary?
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Environmental gradients and competition influence aquatic macrophyte distribution in estuaries. The competition-to-stress hypothesis states that some species are excluded from lower estuaries (high salinity) due to abiotic stress and others from upper estuaries (low salinity) by competition. The growth of Crinum americanum L. and Spartina alterniflora Loisel. in monoculture (10:0/0:10) and mixed culture (5:5) under different salinity levels (4/12/26) was analysed by a laboratory experiment (3 cultures x 3 sediment types x 3 replicate) to understand the role of competition and salinity on the distribution of these species in a tropical estuary as well as to verify whether the competition-to-stress hypothesis explains their zonation. We tested the hypothesis that S. alterniflora is not established in the upper estuary due to the effect of competition with C. americanum, whereas the latter presents restrictions to high salinity and has greater competitive ability in the upper estuary. Our data confirm the competition-to-stress hypothesis but not as proposed originally. We conclude that abiotic stress (low nutrient availability) is responsible for the absence of S. alterniflora in the upper estuary and that the competition between the two species is responsible for the absence of C. americanum in the lower estuary.