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Annual growth patterns of baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) along salinity gradients

July 31, 2015

The effects of salinity on Taxodium distichum seedlings have been well documented, but few studies have examined mature trees in situ. We investigated the environmental drivers of T. distichum growth along a salinity gradient on the Waccamaw (South Carolina) and Savannah (Georgia) Rivers. On each river, T. distichum increment cores were collected from a healthy upstream site (Upper), a moderately degraded mid-reach site (Middle), and a highly degraded downstream site (Lower). Chronologies were successfully developed for Waccamaw Upper and Middle, and Savannah Middle. Correlations between standardized chronologies and environmental variables showed significant relationships between T. distichum growth and early growing season precipitation, temperature, and Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Savannah Middle chronology correlated most strongly with August river salinity levels. Both lower sites experienced suppression/release events likely in response to local anthropogenic impacts rather than regional environmental variables. The factors that affect T. distichum growth, including salinity, are strongly synergistic. As sea-level rise pushes the freshwater/saltwater interface inland, salinity becomes more limiting to T. distichum growth in tidal freshwater swamps; however, salinity impacts are exacerbated by locally imposed environmental modifications.