Climate and coastal dune vegetation: disturbance, recovery, and succession
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The sand dune habitats found on barrier islands and other coastal areas support a dynamic plant community while protecting areas further inland from waves and wind. Foredune, interdune, and backdune habitats common to most coastal dunes have very different vegetation, likely because of the interplay among plant succession, exposure, disturbance, and resource availability. However, surprisingly few long-term data are available describing dune vegetation patterns. A nine-year census of 294 plots on St. George Island, Florida suggests that the major climatic drivers of vegetation patterns vary with habitat. Community structure is correlated with the elevation, soil moisture, and percent soil ash of each 1 m2 plot. Major storms reduce species richness in all three habitats. Principle coordinate analysis suggests that changes in the plant communities through time are caused by climatic events: changes in foredune vegetation are correlated with temperature and summer precipitation, interdune vegetation with storm surge, and backdune vegetation with precipitation and storm surge. We suggest that the plant communities in foredune, interdune, and backdune habitats tend to undergo succession toward particular compositions of species, with climatic disturbances pushing the communities away from these more deterministic trajectories.
KeywordsDune habitats Succession Disturbance Coastal vegetation Hurricane Tropical storm
Gretchen Lebuhn, Sara Davis, and Michael Plastini contributed importantly to aspects of this work. The study could not have been completed without the help of an additional 50 + volunteers over the years who are unfortunately too numerous to list here; we are very grateful for their help. The personnel of the St. George State Park were helpful throughout our study. Financial assistance was provided by A. Winn and T. Miller, as well as grants from the HURRI program of the National Hurricane Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Service. We thank anonymous reviewers for suggestions that greatly improved the manuscript.
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