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Dendroecological Analysis of Salt Stressed Atlantic Red Cedar and American Holly in the Mid-Atlantic Region

Authors: Sydney Hall*, Wesley College, Stephanie Stotts, Wesley College, LeeAnn Haaf, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
Topics: Environmental Science
Keywords: dendroecology, salinification, difference chronology
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Salinization from sea level rise has detrimental impacts on coastal forests like those at the St. Jones National Estuarine Research Reserve in Dover, Delaware. Investigating patterns in tree growth within these forests is important for preventing and maintaining potential inundation of these estuarine areas and beyond, into communities, agriculture, and infrastructure. This study investigated climatic variables and flooding as factors governing growth of Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and American holly (Ilex opaca). Annual tree growth chronologies were developed and compared to seasonal temperature, precipitation, coastal water levels, and drought by using Pearson’s correlation, multi-variate correlations, and superposed epoch analysis. American hollies (n=43, ranging 118 years) appeared most affected by spring droughts. Low-elevation hollies grew better than those at higher elevations after cold winters. This is attributable to salt water exposure, which reduces vessel sizes, thus fostering cavitation resistance. Further, hollies experience reduced growth 0-3 years after winter floods and 1-2 years after autumn floods. Conversely, summer climate had the greatest effects on red cedar growth (n=14, ranging 52 years). Despite very low elevations, growth did not correlate with flood data (R=0.45). However, lags with reduced growth existed 0-4 years after winter floods and 0-1 years after spring floods. With varying seasonal climate differences, it can impact the ability to predict changing and retreating forests as sea level continues to rise. These results can be used to gain a better understanding of growth drivers in a valuable and threatened ecosystem.

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