Plant response strategies to stress and disturbance: the case of aquatic plants
The environmental factors controlling the establishment and development of plants in different ecosystems are of two types, stress and disturbance. The effects of stress or disturbance on aquatic systems are discussed in relation to the following questions:
Can we predict the state and rate of recolonization after a disturbance? What are the strategies of recolonization developed by plants? How high is the resilience of a disturbed system? Two theories, the intermediate disturbance hypothesis, and the patch dynamics concept proposed to predict the composition, structure and dynamics of plants due to physical-chemical factors, were tested on two scales, that of communities and that of species, within two alluvial floodplains (the Rhine and the Rhône systems in France).
With regard to the change of community on a larger scale (i.e. the whole network of the cut-off channels in the floodplain), large gradients of connection and disturbance induce high diversities within communities. Moreover, the highest flood disturbance induces a higher species richness and the occurrence of a particular species. The change in species is analysed using biological traits (morphological, reproductive or physiological). In the floodplain of the river Rhône, the response of plants corresponds well to theory, i.e. that habitats with an intermediate disturbance are richer than more or less disturbed habitats. So we can predict, through the biological traits, the functioning of a habitat. The last remaining question is that of the resilience of the system, which can be discussed in terms of species competition and the risk of biological invasion after an opening of habitat.