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November 2014


Barrier islands are complex and dynamic systems that provide critical ecosystem services to coastal populations. Stability of these systems is threatened by rising sea level and the potential for coastal storms to increase in frequency and intensity. Recovery of dune-building grasses following storms is an important process that promotes topographic heterogeneity and long-term stability of barrier islands, yet factors that drive dune recovery are poorly understood. We examined vegetation recovery in overwash zones on two geomorphically distinct (undisturbed vs. frequently overwashed) barrier islands on the Virginia coast, USA. We hypothesized that vegetation recovery in overwash zones would be driven primarily by environmental characteristics, especially elevation and beach width. We sampled species composition and environmental characteristics along a continuum of disturbance from active overwash zones to relict overwash zones and in adjacent undisturbed environments. We compared species assemblages along the disturbance chronosequence and between islands and we analyzed species composition data and environmental measurements with Canonical Correspondence Analysis to link community composition with environmental characteristics. Recovering and geomorphically stable dunes were dominated by Ammophila breviligulataFernaud (Poaceae) on both islands while active overwash zones were dominated by Spartina patens (Aiton) Muhl. (Poaceae) on the frequently disturbed island and bare sand on the less disturbed island. Species composition was associated with environmental characteristics only on the frequently disturbed island (p = 0.005) where A. breviligulata was associated with higher elevation and greater beach width. Spartina patens, the second most abundant species, was associated with larger sediment grain size and greater sediment size distribution. On the less frequently disturbed island, time since disturbance was the only factor that affected community composition. Thus, factors driving the abundance of dune-building grasses and subsequent recovery of dunes varied between the two geomorphically distinct islands.


Copyright: © 2014 Brantley et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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