High aqueous salinity does not preclude germination of invasive Iris pseudacorus from estuarine populations.
Estuarine ecosystems are threatened by climate change and biological invasions. Among global changes, sea-level rise is broadly impacting tidal wetlands, through increases in salinity and alteration of inundation regimes. Extant freshwater plant species are often presumed to be limited to reaches of estuaries with low salinity and narrow tidal ranges. However, the potential for invasive freshwater species (e.g., Iris pseudacorus) to persist and spread with increased salinity and flooding is poorly understood and can jeopardize native biodiversity and other wetland ecosystem services. The successful establishment of invasive plants will be dependent on their tolerance to salinity and inundation, starting with the germination life stage. Changes to abiotic estuarine gradients may alter the germination process of tidal wetland plant species that underlies significant patterns of plant community composition and biodiversity. We explored germination responses of seeds from two invasive I. pseudacorus populations from freshwater and brackish tidal sites in California's San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. We tested germination dynamics under salinity levels ranging from freshwater to seawater (0, 12.5, 25, and 45 dS/m) and two hydrological conditions (moist and flooded). Salinity levels >12.5 dS/m inhibited germination of seeds from both populations, consistent with viviparism and seedling emergence recorded at field sites. However, seeds exposed to seawater for 55 d germinated once exposed to freshwater. Germination velocity and seed buoyancy differed between populations, likely due to differences in seed coat thickness. Our results demonstrate that after 55 d in seawater, buoyant seeds of I. pseudacorus retain their ability to germinate, and germinate quickly with freshwater exposure. This suggests that invasive populations of I. pseudacorus can colonize new sites following potentially long-distance dispersal of buoyant seeds with tidal currents. These findings inform risk assessments and highlight the need to prioritize the management of invasive I. pseudacorus in estuarine ecosystems impacted by rising sea level.