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Species-Specific Functional Morphology of Four US Atlantic Coast Dune Grasses: Biogeographic Implications for Dune Shape and Coastal Protection
  • Published Date:
    2019
  • Source:
    Diversity, 11(5), 1-16
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Species-Specific Functional Morphology of Four US Atlantic Coast Dune Grasses: Biogeographic Implications for Dune Shape and Coastal Protection
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  • Description:
    Coastal dunes arise from feedbacks between vegetation and sediment supply. Species-specific differences in plant functional morphology affect sand capture and dune shape. In this study, we build on research showing a relationship between dune grass species and dune geomorphology on the US central Atlantic Coast. This study seeks to determine the ways in which four co-occurring dune grass species (Ammophila breviligulata, Panicum amarum, Spartina patens, Uniola paniculata) differ in their functional morphology and sand accretion. We surveyed the biogeography, functional morphology, and associated change in sand elevation of the four dune grass species along a 320-kilometer distance across the Outer Banks. We found that A. breviligulata had dense and clumped shoots, which correlated with the greatest sand accretion. Coupled with fast lateral spread, it tends to build tall and wide foredunes. Uniola paniculata had fewer but taller shoots and was associated with ~42% lower sand accretion. Coupled with slow lateral spread, it tends to build steeper and narrower dunes. Panicum amarum had similar shoot densities and associated sand accretion to U. paniculata despite its shorter shoots, suggesting that shoot density is more important than morphology. Finally, we hypothesize, given the distributions of the grass species, that foredunes may be taller and wider and have better coastal protection properties in the north where A. breviligulata is dominant. If under a warming climate A. breviligulata experiences a range shift to the north, as appears to be occurring with U. paniculata, changes in grass dominance and foredune morphology could make for more vulnerable coastlines.
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