The Mississippi (MS) barrier island chain along the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline is subject to rapid changes in habitat, geomorphology and elevation by natural and anthropogenic disturbances. The purpose of this study was to compare habitat type coverage with respective elevation, geomorphic features and short-term change between the naturally-formed East Ship Island and the man-made Sand Island. Ground surveys, multi-year remotely-sensed data, habitat classifications and digital elevation models were used to quantify short-term habitat and geomorphic change, as well as to examine the relationships between habitat types and micro-elevation. Habitat types and species composition were the same on both islands with the exception of the algal flat existing on the lower elevated spits of East Ship. Both islands displayed common patterns of vegetation succession and ranges of existence in elevation. Additionally, both islands showed similar geomorphic features, such as fore and back dunes and ponds. Storm impacts had the most profound effects on vegetation and geomorphic features throughout the study period. Although vastly different in age, these two islands show remarkable commonalities among the traits investigated. In comparison to East Ship, Sand Island exhibits key characteristics of a natural barrier island in terms of its vegetated habitats, geomorphic features and response to storm impacts, although it was established anthropogenically only decades ago.
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