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Using Long-Term Census Data to Inform Restoration Methods for Coastal Dune Vegetation

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Barrier islands are exposed to the wind and wave action from storms, which often disturbs both the geomorphology and vegetation. Conservation and restoration efforts for these important habitats could be improved with knowledge of how native plants respond to storms. We analyzed 10 years of annual data of vegetation of St. George Island, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico, to quantify how the plant community responds to major storms and to predict which dune species might be appropriate for restoration after storm damage across dune zones. This prediction was tested with six plant species that differed in their storm response—from highly negative (local extinction in response to storms) to highly positive (increased abundance in response to storms). We measured transplant survival and growth (plant height and number of shoots) over 2 years in a restoration experiment across three major dune zones. We found that different species can be useful for restoration purposes in different dune zones, depending on both short- and longer-term management strategies. Uniola paniculata is a particularly strong restoration candidate across all dune zones, whereas Muhlenbergia capillaris and Schizachyrium maritimum would be beneficial for restoration in the interdune area. Fimbristylis spp. and Sporobolus virginicus demonstrate the strongest potential for restoration in the interdune and backdune areas. Restoration of disturbed areas often involves the seeding or transplanting of species to stabilize the landscape and initiate the return of the original vegetation. We show that the performance of native species, in response to storms, especially in conjunction with information on plant life history, can be useful for identifying the best species to use for restoration.

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Jackie Monge and John Mola contributed to aspects of this work. John Sulik helped create Fig. 1. We are grateful for the help of over 50 volunteers over the years who are too numerous to list here. This work was funded by grants to TEM from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NA08NOS4200264) and the National Fish and Wildlife Service (401817G051).

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Correspondence to Elise S. Gornish.

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Gornish, E.S., Miller, T.E. Using Long-Term Census Data to Inform Restoration Methods for Coastal Dune Vegetation. Estuaries and Coasts 36, 1014–1023 (2013).

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