Sea-Level Rise and the Persistence of Tree Islands in Coastal Landscapes
Naturally formed forest patches known as tree islands are found within lower-statured wetland matrices throughout the world, where they contrast sharply with the surrounding vegetation. In some coastal wetlands they are embedded in former freshwater marshes that are currently exposed to saltwater intrusion and mangrove encroachment associated with accelerating sea-level rise. In this study we resurveyed tree composition and determined environmental conditions in tree islands of the coastal Florida Everglades that had been examined two decades earlier. We asked whether tree islands in this coastal transition zone were differentiated geomorphologically as well as compositionally, and whether favorable geomorphology enabled coastal forest type(s) to maintain their compositional integrity against rising seas. Patterns of variation in geomorphology and soils among forest types were evident, but were dwarfed by differences between forest and adjacent wetlands. Tree island surfaces were elevated by 12–44 cm, and 210Pb analyses indicated that their current rates of vertical accretion were more rapid than those of surrounding ecosystems. Tree island soils were deeper and more phosphorus-rich than in the adjoining matrix. Salinity decreased interiorward in both tree island and marsh, but porewater was fresher in forest than marsh in Mixed Swamp Forest, midway along the coastal gradient where tropical hardwoods were most abundant. Little decrease in the abundance of tropical hardwood species nor increase in halophytes was observed during the study period. Our data suggest that geomorphological differences between organic tree island and marl marsh, perhaps driven by groundwater upwelling through more transmissive tree island soils, contributed to the forests’ compositional stability, though this stasis may be short-lived despite management efforts.
Ross, M. S., Stoffella, S. L., Vidales, R., Meeder, J. F., Kadko, D. C., Scinto, L. J., Subedi, S. C., & Redwine, J. R. (2021). Sea-level rise and the persistence of tree islands in coastal landscapes. Ecosystems. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-021-00673-1