Using Carbon Isotope Ratios to Verify Predictions of a Model Simulating the Interaction Between Coastal Plant Communities and Their Effect on Ground Water Salinity

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Biological Sciences


As sea level rises in low-lying coastal islands, salt-tolerant (halophytic) coastal vegetation communities may be able to migrate inland, replacing the freshwater vegetation that is unable to tolerate salt stress. The pace of such shifts may be accelerated by a self-reinforcing feedback between the halophytic vegetation and salinity, as well as by frequent and intensified salinity pulses associated with the increasing impact of storm surges as a consequence of sea-level rise. We used a modification of a previously published spatially explicit individual-based model that simulates impacts on upland freshwater hammock communities from sea-level rise and storm surge to predict the interaction between three coastal communities: mangroves, hammocks, and pinelands. The model simulation predicted two qualitative characteristics regarding the interaction between these three different coastal communities: (1) mangroves and hammock communities tend to have ground water with high salinities, while at the same time pineland ground water salinity is low, and (2) pineland located at lower elevation relative to adjacent hammock will be negatively influenced by higher ground water salinities in hammocks, as it flows toward the lower elevation pineland. We tested these predictions using foliar δ13C of Conocarpus erectus collected from Big Pine Key as a proxy for ground water salinity. Measurements of ground water salinity via this proxy confirmed the two predictions of the model. Our approach provides an approximation of the impacts of sea-level rise on terrestrial vegetation communities, including threatened pineland communities, and can be used as a tool for management decisions.



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At the time of publication, Suresh C. Subedi was affiliated with University of Miami.

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