CONSEQUENCES OF VINE INFESTATION: LINKING ABIOTIC INFLUENCES AND BIOTIC INTERACTIONS TO SUCCESSIONAL AND STRUCTURAL CHANGES IN COASTAL COMMUNITIES
Virginia Commonwealth University
Located at the interfaces of terrestrial and marine environments coastal habitats are inherently vulnerable to the effects of global change. Barrier island systems in particular serve not only as protective buffers against storm events but also as sentinel ecosystems for observation of the impacts of sea level rise and of increasing storm frequency and intensity. In the mid-Atlantic region shrub thickets of Morella species compose the dominant forest community. The often monospecific nature of these plant community assemblages is advantageous to ecological studies and cross-scale applications; the relatively low diversity\r\nfacilitates transitions between scales. My objective was to investigate the distribution and community roles of lianas in mid-Atlantic barrier island forest communities. I quantified environmental variables at two barrier habitats with differing site management histories and corresponding topography and found that abiotic factors affected distributions of woody species which subsequently affected vine species distributions. Some association of prevalent vine species with the common woody plants Prunus serotina and Morella cerifera was observed though neither vines nor woody species demonstrated significant species-specific xiii phytosociological associations. Vines demonstrated a long-lasting effect of arresting or delaying succession and are potentially responsible for the lack of redevelopment of mature maritime forest at these sites. At Hog Island Virginia remotely-sensed data were utilized to determine the three-dimensional structural effects of vine infiltration in woody canopies. Vines were found to reduce canopy height and depth and increase density short-term diversity and light-intercepting biomass. Significant vine infiltration can accelerate senescence of shrub thickets but often results in persistent tangled masses of vegetation which reduce recruitment of later-successional species. These effects may represent long-term lasting impacts of vine establishment and expansion in these habitats affecting community succession towards diverse and stable maritime forest and significantly altering resource dynamics in these sensitive ecosystems.