Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Julie Zinnert


Natural dunes arise out of complex relationships between ecological, hydrological, and geological processes and are important for reducing erosion along coastlines. Aboveground structures of coastal dune grasses are known to impact erosional dynamics, and recent studies have shown that belowground structures—such as roots, rhizomes, and belowground stems— may be important in erosional resistance. My objectives were to 1) characterize above- and belowground characteristics of prominent dune grasses and 2) combine these data with functional group abundances and distribution to evaluate community effects on two adjacent locations of distinctive morphology and erosional characteristics and their response to storm disturbance. Whole plant samples of four dominant dune grasses—Ammophila breviligulata, Spartina patens, Panicum amarum, and Uniola paniculata—were collected from an unmanaged foredune and examined for above- and belowground characteristics. To assess the relationship among plant community, dune morphology, and storm effects, transects were also established in two locations of differing morphology along the same foredune and plant community data collected pre- and post-Hurricane Dorian. The four focal species differed in their suites of characteristics, indicating that these grasses may have species-specific impacts on dune erosional dynamics that arise from both above- and belowground factors. Plant community analyses vii further support that understanding species characteristics within a functional group at a given location may be critical in understanding the complex net effects of plant communities on erosional dynamics. This study demonstrates the necessity of considering belowground features of dominant vegetation as well as aboveground for understanding erosional dynamics in natural dune systems.


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