Recent "rapid” conversion of an Appalachian bottomland oak swamp

Authors: John Cline*, Concord University, Jim Vanderhorst, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Tom Saladyga, Concord University
Topics: Physical Geography, Biogeography
Keywords: dendrochronology, biogeography, vegetation change, oak swamps
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Bottomland oak swamps provide ecosystem services such as nutrient exchange and pollution entrapment and generally improve aquatic and riparian habitats. In West Virginia, little is known about the development and resiliency of these plant communities, which have declined in the area due primarily to human impacts (i.e., draining and development). In this study, we used multiple methods, including aerial imagery analysis, vegetation surveys, and tree-ring analysis to assess the timing and driver(s) of recent pin oak mortality in a remnant forest patch located on the floodplain of the Meadow River. Our results indicate a rapid change in vegetation cover at the site between 2011 and 2017, with a significant decrease in tree canopy cover and an increase in light-demanding, flood-tolerant herbaceous species cover. Historical trends in tree establishment indicate an absence of pin oak recruitment after the 1960s and an increase in the recruitment of mesophytic species such as red maple. Furthermore, temporal trends in hydroclimate-tree growth relationships suggest that an increasingly temperate climate and higher water table benefited red maple at the expense of pin oak beginning in the 1990s. Taken together, these findings suggest a gradual, multi-decade, process of plant community reorganization beginning in the mid-20th century. This process may have continued unabated until flooding and persistent high water in 2003 and 2004 amplified the wetting trend and initiated the progression of widespread overstory mortality.

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