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Funded in part by the VCU Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.

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November 2017


Shrubs have become more dense and expanded beyond their range all over the world for a variety of reasons including increased temperatures, overgrazing, and alteration of historical fire regime. Native shrubs have been encroaching on Virginia barrier island grasslands for over half a century for unknown reasons. Species composition, soil nutrients, leaf area index (LAI), and ground and air temperature were recorded across the shrub to grass transition and at free-standing shrubs in a coastal grassland in order to determine the effect of shrub encroachment on plant community and microclimate. Species richness was significantly lower inside shrub thickets. Soil water content, organic matter, nitrogen (N), carbon (C), and LAI were higher in shrub thickets and free-standing shrubs compared to grasslands. Summer and fall maximum temperatures were lower and more moderate where shrubs were present. Fall and winter minimum temperatures were highest inside shrub thickets. Native shrubs impact microclimate and species composition immediately upon encroachment. These shrubs lower overall species composition, increase soil nutrients and moisture, moderate summer temperature, and increase winter temperature, which has consequences on a larger scale. As barrier islands are critical for protecting marsh and mainland habitats, understanding this mechanism for shrub expansion is important to predict future encroachment of shrubs and displacement of grassland habitat.


© 2017 Thompson et al. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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