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Open AccessArticle

Species-Specific Functional Morphology of Four US Atlantic Coast Dune Grasses: Biogeographic Implications for Dune Shape and Coastal Protection

1
Department of Integrative Biology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA
2
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory—Field Research Facility, Duck, NC 27949, USA
3
Department of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27412, USA
4
School of Civil and Construction Engineering, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA
5
Department of Geological Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, USA
6
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Diversity 2019, 11(5), 82; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11050082
Received: 12 April 2019 / Revised: 15 May 2019 / Accepted: 19 May 2019 / Published: 24 May 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Diversity of Ecosystem Engineers in the World Coasts and Oceans)
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. View Full-Text
Keywords: dune grass morphology; sand capture; foredune morphology; Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass); Panicum amarum (bitter panicum); Spartina patens (saltmeadow cordgrass); Uniola paniculata (sea oats); Outer Banks islands; North Carolina; distributional range shifts dune grass morphology; sand capture; foredune morphology; Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass); Panicum amarum (bitter panicum); Spartina patens (saltmeadow cordgrass); Uniola paniculata (sea oats); Outer Banks islands; North Carolina; distributional range shifts
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Hacker, S.D.; Jay, K.R.; Cohn, N.; Goldstein, E.B.; Hovenga, P.A.; Itzkin, M.; Moore, L.J.; Mostow, R.S.; Mullins, E.V.; Ruggiero, P. Species-Specific Functional Morphology of Four US Atlantic Coast Dune Grasses: Biogeographic Implications for Dune Shape and Coastal Protection. Diversity 2019, 11, 82.

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