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Vegetation change from chronic stress events: Detection of the effects of tide gate removal and long-term drought on a tidal marsh

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Abstract:

Question: Chronic stress events are defined as disturbance events that exceed the lifespan of the dominant plant species, fluctuate in intensity and lack abruptness or physical destruction of biomass. Can the effects of chronic stress events be measured on vegetation communities? Did two chronic stress events, the removal of a tide gate and a four year drought, cause a temporary or permanent shift in the vegetation communities of a tidal marsh?

Location: Tidal marsh in southeastern United States.

Methods: Change in species composition and dominance and community change on a landscape level salinity gradient were measured between time periods ranging from four months to seven years to construct a statistical baseline reference community at freshwater, oligohaline, and mesohaline sections of a tidal marsh. Statistical shifts in the plant community were defined as changes in the plant community that fell outside of the defined baseline reference community.

Results: Plant community changes outside of the reference community occurred in 13 out of 378 community comparisons. Removal of the tide gate had a greater effect on interstitial salinity levels than the drought and was most intense in the oligohaline marsh, where between 20 to 45% of the freshwater/oligohaline community types permanently converted to oligohaline community types. However, community shifts in the freshwater and oligohaline marsh induced by the drought were temporary, lasting from 1 to 3+ years. Neither chronic stress event permanently altered the mesohaline plant communities.

Conclusion: The effects of chronic stress events could be detected; an extended historical record of vegetation change (18 years) was necessary to identify community shifts outside of a reference condition of the community and to determine if those shifts were permanent or temporary.

Keywords: COMMUNITY SHIFT; MINIMUM STRUCTURE; MULTI-PERMUTATION RESPONSE PROCEDURE; SALINITY GRADIENT; SAVANNAH RIVER

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-06-01

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