Journal Article

Effects of disturbance on vegetation by sand accretion and erosion across coastal dune habitats on a barrier island

Thomas E. Miller


Published on behalf of Annals of Botany Company

Volume 7, issue
Published online February 2015 | e-ISSN: 2041-2851 | DOI:

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  • Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry
  • Biological Sciences


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Coastal geomorphology and vegetation are expected to be particularly sensitive to climate change, because of disturbances caused by sea-level rise and increased storm frequency. Dunes have critical reciprocal interactions with vegetation; dunes create habitats for plants, while plants help to build dunes and promote geomorphological stability. These interactions are also greatly affected by disturbances associated with sand movement, either in accretion (dune building) or in erosion. The magnitude and intensity of disturbances are expected to vary with habitat, from the more exposed and less stable foredunes, to low-lying and flood-prone interdunes, to the protected and older backdunes. Permanent plots were established at three different spatial scales on St George Island, FL, USA, where the vegetation and dune elevation were quantified annually from 2011 to 2013. Change in elevation, either through accretion or erosion, was used as a measure of year-to-year disturbance over the 2 years of the study. At the scale of different dune habitats, foredunes were found to have the greatest disturbance, while interdunes had the least. Elevation and habitat (i.e. foredune, interdune, backdune) were significantly correlated with plant community composition. Generalized linear models conducted within each habitat show that the change in elevation (disturbance) is also significantly correlated with the plant community, but only within foredunes and interdunes. The importance of disturbance in exposed foredunes was expected and was found to be related to an increasing abundance of a dominant species (Uniola paniculata) in eroding areas. The significant effect of disturbance in the relatively stable interdunes was surprising, and may be due to the importance of flooding associated with small changes in elevation in these low-lying areas. Overall, this study documents changes in the plant community associated with elevation, and demonstrates that the foredune and interdune communities are also associated with the responses of specific species to local changes in elevation due to accretion or erosion.

Keywords: Climate change; coastal zones; disturbance; geomorphology; ordination; plant community

Journal Article.  4742 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biodiversity and Conservation Biology ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Sciences and Forestry ; Biological Sciences

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