Small steps, big leaps – how marram grass builds dunes

phys.org | 7/28/2014 | Staff
JimmyJoe (Posted by) Level 3
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The size and shape of dunes varies greatly around the world: in Europe they're tall and narrow, while in the US they're low and wide. A new study has found that this is partly because dunes are constructed by plants with different 'movement strategies' determining the shape of the dune. The study was carried out by ecologists from Radboud University, the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and the University of Groningen. The findings, which will be published in Nature Communications on 14 June, could be useful for coastal landscape rehabilitation projects.

The coastline is a difficult place for plants to survive, thanks to all the salt and crashing waves. Marram grasses have a special survival mechanism to cope with this: they catch drifting sand and build a dune, which enables them to eventually escape the effects of the sea.

Marram - Grass - Dunes - Counterpart - Metres

But why is it that our European marram grass constructs 15-metre dunes, while its American counterpart doesn't get higher than 6 metres? That was the question that researchers, including Valérie Reijers, a Ph.D. candidate at Radboud University, wanted to answer. They looked at how European and American marram grasses grow along the coast of Schiermonnikoog and in North Carolina.

"Marram grasses create underground rootstocks which can develop new shoots. European marram grass appears to have a specific strategy in which short rootstocks create new shoots close to the older one, but occasionally there will be a long underground runner. This striking pattern of movement has previously been identified in other organisms, including mussels, albatrosses, sharks, bacteria and even humans," says...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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