Wetl Ecol Manag 2018 27;26(3):331-343. Epub 2017 Sep 27.
1Biology Department and Canadian Rivers Institute, University of New Brunswick, PO Box 4400, Fredericton, NB E3B 5A3 Canada.
The emergent aquatic plant, is an easily-identified and commonly-found species in the Great Plains region of North America and has the potential to be a bioindicator of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) because of its previously-identified leaf plasticity in response to nutrient conditions. To identify associations between leaf morphology and soil and water nutrients, we conducted: (1) a 10-week controlled experiment in which plants were grown in nutrient-enriched sediment, nutrient-enriched water, or unamended control trials, and (2) a field study where emergent leaves were collected from 15 streams of varying nutrient concentrations. Plants grown in experimentally enriched sediment were more productive than those grown in enriched water or control conditions: they produced more emergent leaves and tubers, had a larger final biomass and height, and developed emergent leaves that showed a consistent increase in size and unique change in shape over time. Emergent leaves collected from field plants also showed significant variability of leaf traits; however, this variability occurred at all scales of replication (leaf, plant, quadrat, and site), with linear mixed effects modelling indicating that random chance was likely driving this variability. Although sediment nutrients were crucial to successful growth of under controlled conditions, the high variability in leaf morphology under field conditions (likely due to large natural variability at the species, population, and individual scale) make leaf plasticity of unsuitable as a bioindicator. Our results emphasize the need to quantify within and among plant variation in leaf morphology (and to clarify sampling methods) for the many taxa of aquatic macrophytes that are phenotypically plastic and notoriously difficult to classify.