Coastal Marsh Vegetation Dynamics of the East Bay of Galveston Bay, Texas



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The structure and function of coastal marshes results from a complex interaction of biotic and abiotic processes that continually influence the characteristics of marsh vegetation. A great deal of research has focused on how tidal processes influence vegetation dynamics along the Atlantic coast, but few studies have investigated the influence of similar processes in the marshes along the Gulf of Mexico. This study aims to identify the characteristic vegetation assemblages of the coastal marshes bordering the East Bay of Galveston Bay, Texas, and identify if elevation, inundation frequency and burning frequency are important to their structure.

To identify characteristic vegetation assemblages, hierarchical cluster analysis was used. The cluster analysis resulted in seven statistically different vegetation assemblages that were used in diversity analysis and classification and regression analysis (CART) as dependent variables.

Diversity measures were calculated at both the plot and assemblage scale using Shannon's diversity index and species richness. The resulting diversity measures were used as predictor variables in the CART analysis as well as regression analysis.

Hydrologic modeling was accomplished using Mike 21, a flow and wave simulation model, along with a geographic information system (GIS), to model hourly inundation frequency at each of the sampled plots. The inundation frequency was then used as a predictor variable in the CART analysis and regression analysis.

This study found that the main factor contributing to species richness was elevation. Vegetation assemblages at high elevations generally had high diversity, and assemblages at low elevations had lower diversity. Elevation and inundation frequency are inversely related, and the strong correlation between species richness and elevation also assumes that inundation frequency is important in structuring the marsh. Burn frequencies had no influence on diversity in general, but more frequent burning did result in monospecific stands of Spartina patens at Anahuac NWR.