The tidal freshwater zone near the estuarine head-of-tide is potentially sensitive to both sea-level rise and associated salinity increases as well as changing watershed inputs of freshwater and nutrients. We evaluated the vegetation response of tidal freshwater forested wetlands (TFFW) to changes in nontidal river versus estuarine controls along the longitudinal gradient of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers in the Mid-Atlantic USA. The gradient included nontidal freshwater floodplain (NT) and upper tidal (UT), lower tidal (LT), and stressed tidal forest transitioning to marsh (ST) TFFW habitats on both rivers. Plot-based vegetation sampling and dendrochronology were employed to examine: (1) downriver shifts in plant community composition and the structure of canopy trees, understory trees/saplings/shrubs and herbs, tree basal-area increment (BAI) and (2) interannual variability in BAI from 2015 dating back as far as 1969 in relation to long-term river and estuary monitoring data. With greater tidal influence downstream, tree species dominance shifted, live basal area generally decreased, long-term mean BAI of individual trees decreased, woody stem mortality increased, and live herbaceous vegetative cover and richness increased. Acer rubrum, Fagus grandifolia, Ilex opaca, and Fraxinus pennsylvanica dominated NT and UT sites, with F. pennsylvanica and Nyssa sylvatica increasingly dominating at more downstream tidal sites. Annual tree BAI growth was positively affected by nontidal river flow at NT and UT sites which were closer to the head-of-tide, positively influenced by small salinity increases at LT and ST sites further downstream, and positively influenced by estuarine water level throughout the gradient; nutrient influence was site specific with both positive and negative influences. The counterintuitive finding of salinity increasing tree growth at sites with low BAI is likely due to either competitive growth release from neighboring tree death or enhanced soil nutrient availability that may temporarily mitigate the negative effects of low-level salinization and sea-level increases on living TFFW canopy trees, even as overall plant community conversion to tidal marsh progresses.
|Title||Watershed and estuarine controls both influence plant community and tree growth changes in tidal freshwater forested wetlands along two U.S. mid-Atlantic rivers|
|Authors||Gregory B. Noe, Norman A Bourg, Ken Krauss, Jamie A. Duberstein, Cliff R. Hupp|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Wetland and Aquatic Research Center; Florence Bascom Geoscience Center|