Relationships of native and exotic strains of Phragmites australis to wetland ecosystem properties.
Invasions by exotic plant species like Phragmites australis can affect wetlands and the services they provide, including denitrification. Native and exotic Phragmites strains were genetically verified in 2002 but few studies have compared their ecosystem effects. We compared relationships between native and exotic Phragmites and environmental attributes, soil nutrient concentrations, and abundance and activity of soil denitrifying bacteria. There were no significant differences for any measured variables between sites with exotic and native strains. However, there were significant positive correlations between native Phragmites stem density and soil nutrient concentrations and denitrification rates. Furthermore, denitrifying bacterial abundance was positively correlated with nitrate concentration and denitrification rates. Additionally, there were significant negative correlations between water levels in native Phragmites sites and native stem density, nutrient concentrations, and denitrification rates. Surprisingly, we found no significant relationships between exotic stem density or water level and measured variables. These results suggest (1) the native strain may have important ecosystem effects that had only been documented for exotic Phragmites, and (2) abiotic drivers such as water level may have mediated this outcome. Further work is needed to determine if the stem density gradients were a consequence, rather than a cause, of pre-existing gradients of abiotic factors.