Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) response to historic river dredging in Delaware, a natural experiment with implications for coastal forest response to sea level rise

Authors: Stephanie Stotts*, Wesley College, Olivia Gulledge, Wesley College
Topics: Biogeography, Coastal and Marine, Environmental Science
Keywords: Sea Level Rise, Dendrochronology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom C, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The St. Jones River in central Delaware was straightened through dredging in 1932, resulting in an upstream migration of the salt water/fresh water boundary. Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), a freshwater wetland obligate, was the dominant species along Cypress Branch. However, these trees began to die due to the increased salt level resulting from the channel alterations. Today, all that remains of the once ecologically and economically important forested wetland is standing snags in Spartina marsh. The goal of this project is to examine the Atlantic white cedar response to increased salinization through tree ring analysis because the results may provide valuable insight about how coastal forests respond to increased salt levels associated with sea level rise. This is an important topic in Delaware because 84% to 98% of the tidal freshwater wetlands are likely to be impacted by salt water intrusion by the end of the century. Cross sections were collected from standing dead trees in the marsh and cores were collected from upstream live specimens for cross dating. All samples were processed and analyzed using standard dendrochronology techniques. Our results indicate a decreased ring width index associated with the dredging and death of all specimens within 30 years.

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