On the life history, systematics and ecology of Ruppia maritima L. (Potamogetonaceae) in lower Chesapeake Bay

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Virginia Tech


Ruppia maritima is a euryhaline hydrophyte found as a cosmopolitan inhabitant of shallow water habitats. In Chesapeake Bay, Ruppia maritima L. (Potamogetonaceae) and Zostera marina L. (Zosteraceae) form an important submerged aquatic vegetation community. Research in Chesapeake Bay has focused primarily on Zostera marina. Ruppia maritima occurs abundantly in large monospecific stands as well as in mixed stands with Zostera marina. Recent surveys have shown that natural revegetation in some areas has occurred and Ruppia maritima was the primary colonizer in the natural revegetation of some areas.

The objective of this study was to investigate the reproductive biology of Ruppia maritima including the possible function of seed banks and vegetative and sexual propagules on the colonization of new habitats, and the plant's ecological impact around Goodwin Islands, York County, Virginia.

Ruppia maritima rapidly colonized experimental plots that have historically been mixed beds or have been monospecific beds of Zostera marina because it utilized a combination of sexual and asexual reproduction. Ruppia maritima colonized plots by rapid rhizome growth. Seed reserves were probably more important in re-establishing populations than in "maintenance" of populations. Ruppia produces energy costly Post-reproductive shoots. These shoots which produce inflorescences (and then seeds) remain viable after seeds mature and can detach, disperse, and colonize sites. First year plants were not found to produce an inflorescence. This is significant in the establishment of new habitats. If a fledgling population is distressed by poor water quality or sediment disturbance, the possibility of producing seeds seems to be eliminated unless the plants have been established for one full growing season. This may explain the ephemeral nature of some Ruppia populations.