SREL Reprint #2590




Tree community structure and changes from 1987 to 1999 in three Louisiana and three South Carolina forested wetlands

William H. Conner1, Ioana Mihalia2, and Jeff Wolfe2

1Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, PO Box 596,
Georgetown, South Carolina, USA 29442
2Coastal Carolina University, PO Box 261954, Conway, South Carolina, USA 29528-0654

Abstract: Paired plots were established across a soil moisture gradient (dry, periodically flooded, flooded) in three forested wetland watersheds in Louisiana and South Carolina, USA in 1986-1987. All trees greater than 10-cm diameter at breast height were tagged and measured annually through 1999 to determine density, basal area changes, ingrowth, and mortality. A greater number of tree species was found in South Carolina dry and periodically flooded sites than in Louisiana. Flooded sites in both states were dominated by water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) and baldcypress (Taxodium distichum). The overall trend in density in both states was flooded > periodically flooded > dry. From 1987 to 1999, density decreased in all of the Louisiana sites except one, while in South Carolina, density decreased the same or increased in four of the sites and decreased in the other four. The greatest changes in density occurred in those sites where water-level changes were occurring and in areas where storm winds struck. Basal area in 1987 was similar in both states, ranging from 20.8 to 55.2 m2/ha in Louisiana and 24.0 to 49.5 m2/ha in South Carolina. Flooded sites had the greatest basal area, and periodically flooded and dry sites had similar basal areas. Mortality rates in Louisiana and South Carolina forested wetlands are typically low (around 2%/year) in areas that have not been altered hydrologically. Annual mortality in Louisiana plots with increased water levels rose from 4% in 1987 to 16% in 1997. Wind storm events significantly increased mortality rates, and mortality rates remained high for years after the event, as damaged trees died. Of special concern are areas like the Verret Basin site where the exotic, invasive species Chinese tallow (Sapium sebiferum) invaded after Hurricane Andrew and has the potential to become a dominant canopy tree in the future.

Keywords: mortality, increased water levels, hurricanes, tornadoes, tree density, succession, forested wetlands, South Carolina, Louisiana

SREL Reprint #2590

Conner, W. H., I. Mihalia, and J. Wolfe. 2002. Tree community structure and changes from 1987 to 1999 in three Louisiana and three South Carolina forested wetlands. Wetlands. 22:58-70.

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