Coastal Plain Pond Vegetation Patterns: Tracking Changes Across Space and Time

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Coastal plain ponds are an understudied and threatened wetland ecosystem with many unique environmental attributes. Research in these ponds can investigate species-environment relationships, while simultaneously providing ecosystem-specific information crucial to their continued conservation and management. This dissertation explores patterns in coastal plain pond vegetation composition and species-environment relationships across space, through time, and in the seed bank and standing vegetation.

In a two-year field study at 18 coastal plain ponds across the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, I investigated species-environment relationships within and among ponds. I identified vegetation species presences and abundances within 1 m2 quadrats, which ran continuously along transects established perpendicular to the water's edge. Species data were analyzed against local and landscape-scale environmental data. I also conducted a one-year seed bank study in which sediments from four coastal plain ponds were incubated in growth chambers and composition was compared to the standing vegetation. One hundred and thirty-four plant species were identified during vegetation sampling and 38 species were identified from incubated sediments.

I found significant compositional change across space in response to environmental gradients, with patterns in species composition occurring at both local and landscape scales. Elevation was the only local factor strongly correlated with species composition. Significant landscape-scale environmental factors included surficial geology and pond water salinity. Species composition was significantly correlated with hydrologic regime in 2005 but not in 2006. Overall patterns in vegetation species composition and abundance were more closely related to landscape-scale environmental variables than to local environmental variables.

I also found that coastal plain ponds undergo significant compositional change from one year to the next. Interannual variability disproportionately affected certain ponds and quadrats more than others, highlighting patterns in the relationships between compositional change and environmental attributes. Specifically, ephemeral ponds, ponds located on the moraine, ponds with high specific conductance values, and quadrats located closer to the waterline exhibited greater compositional change from 2005 to 2006 than permanent ponds, ponds located on the outwash plain, ponds with low specific conductance values, and quadrats located further from the waterline.

Finally, I found that coastal plain ponds exhibit a low degree of similarity between composition in sediments and standing vegetation. More species were identified in the standing vegetation than in the seed bank, and in most cases average species richness per quadrat was higher in the standing vegetation than in the seed bank. Seed bank and standing vegetation samples from ponds with different surficial geology were compositionally distinct. Seed bank samples from permanent and ephemeral ponds were compositionally distinct whereas standing vegetation samples were not.






ODea, Claire (2010). Coastal Plain Pond Vegetation Patterns: Tracking Changes Across Space and Time. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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