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Coastal Freshwater Wetland Plant Community Response to Seasonal Drought and Flooding in Northwestern Costa Rica

Abstract

Wetlands in tropical wet-dry climates are governed by distinct and extreme seasonal hydrologic fluctuations. In this study, we investigated the plant community response to seasonal flooding and drought in Palo Verde Marsh, Costa Rica. Climate change models for the region predict reduced rainfall and a drier wet season which would likely alter seasonal hydrologic cycles and prompt vegetation change. We quantified compositional change following disturbance emphasizing seasonal differences in plant life-form abundance across life history stages via standing vegetation, seed bank, and seedling recruitment measurements. Whereas the dry season standing vegetation was dominated by emergent species, aquatic species (floating-rooted, free-floating, and submerged life forms) were more dominant during the wet season. Seed bank and seedling recruitment measurements indicated that many species are resilient with life history traits that enable them to respond rapidly to extreme hydrologic filters. Interestingly, species richness was highest during seasonal flooding. Our results highlight the importance of early-wet season rainfall for plant regeneration and community change. Our findings also indicate that a drier future would likely have a large impact upon wetland plant communities with a decrease in species richness and an increase in the abundance of drought-tolerant emergent species.

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Acknowledgments

This study was conducted with the support of a Fulbright Fellowship, an NSF IRES Grant, an OTS Research Fellowship, a Duke University Graduate School Pre-Dissertation Research Travel Award, a Duke University Provost’s Pre-Dissertation International Field Research Grant, and the Duke Wetland Center Case Studies Endowment. We are very grateful to N. González, A. McHugh, A. Osland, G. Murillo, A. Blanco Sibaja, and D. González for their assistance. The hydrology and climate data were obtained from OTS records with the help of J. Serrano and W. Lopez. We appreciate the tremendous support provided by the OTS staff at the Palo Verde Biological Station and also in the San Jose and Durham offices. We also thank MINAE and the PVNP Rangers for their assistance and permission to conduct this research. We are grateful to B.A. Middleton and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. The information in this document has been subjected to review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use. This is contribution number 1408 from the Gulf Ecology Division.

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Correspondence to Michael J. Osland.

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Osland, M.J., González, E. & Richardson, C.J. Coastal Freshwater Wetland Plant Community Response to Seasonal Drought and Flooding in Northwestern Costa Rica. Wetlands 31, 641–652 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-011-0180-9

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Palo Verde National Park
  • Plant life forms
  • Seasonal hydrology
  • Seed bank
  • Tropical dry wetland