Coastal freshwater wetland plant community response to seasonal drought and flooding in Northwestern Costa Rica

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Wetlands in tropical wet-dry climates are governed by distinct and extreme seasonal hydrologic fluctuations. In this study, we investigated the plant community response to seasonal flooding and drought in Palo Verde Marsh, Costa Rica. Climate change models for the region predict reduced rainfall and a drier wet season which would likely alter seasonal hydrologic cycles and prompt vegetation change.We quantified compositional change following disturbance emphasizing seasonal differences in plant life-form abundance across life history stages via standing vegetation, seed bank, and seedling recruitment measurements. Whereas the dry season standing vegetation was dominated by emergent species, aquatic species (floating-rooted, free-floating, and submerged life forms) were more dominant during the wet season. Seed bank and seedling recruitment measurements indicated that many species are resilient with life history traits that enable them to respond rapidly to extreme hydrologic filters. Interestingly, species richness was highest during seasonal flooding. Our results highlight the importance of early-wet season rainfall for plant regeneration and community change. Our findings also indicate that a drier future would likely have a large impact upon wetland plant communities with a decrease in species richness and an increase in the abundance of drought-tolerant emergent species. © Society of Wetland Scientists 2011.






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Osland, MJ, E González and CJ Richardson (2011). Coastal freshwater wetland plant community response to seasonal drought and flooding in Northwestern Costa Rica. Wetlands, 31(4). pp. 641–652. 10.1007/s13157-011-0180-9 Retrieved from

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Curtis J. Richardson

Research Professor of Resource Ecology in the Division of Environmental Science and Policy

Curtis J. Richardson is Professor of Resource Ecology and founding Director of the Duke University Wetland Center in the Nicholas School of the Environment. Dr. Richardson earned his degrees from the State University of New York and the University of Tennessee.

His research interests in applied ecology focus on long-term ecosystem response to large-scale perturbations such as climate change, toxic materials, trace metals, flooding, or nutrient additions. He has specific interests in phosphorus nutrient dynamics in wetlands and the effects of environmental stress on plant communities and ecosystem functions and services. The objectives of his research are to utilize ecological principles to develop new approaches to environmental problem solving. The goal of his research is to provide predictive models and approaches to aid in the management of ecosystems.

Recent research activities: 1) wetland restoration of plant communities and its effects on regional water quality and nutrient biogeochemical cycles, 2) the development of ecosystem metrics as indices of wetland restoration success, 3) the effects of nanomaterial on wetland and stream ecosystem processes, 4) the development of ecological thresholds along environmental gradients, 5) wetland development trends and restoration in coastal southeastern United States, 6) the development of an outdoor wetland and stream research and teaching laboratory on Duke Forest, 7) differential nutrient limitation (DNL) as a mechanism to overcome N or P limitations across trophic levels in wetland ecosystems, and 8) carbon sequestration in coastal North Carolina pocosins.

Richardson oversees the main analytical lab in NSOE, which is open to students and faculty. Dr. Richardson has been listed in Who's Who in Science™ annually since 1989 and was elected President of the Society of Wetland Scientists in 1987-88. He has served on many editorial review committees for peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he is a past Chair of the Nicholas School Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy. Dr. Richardson is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the Soil Science Society of America.

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