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Vascular plant composition and soil characteristics of undeveloped back-barrier islands near Sapelo Island, Georgia.
Albers, Gayle1, Alber, Merryl2, 1 University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA2 University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
ABSTRACT- This study was designed to describe vascular plant composition and soil characteristics among undeveloped back-barrier islands of different sizes near Sapelo Island, Georgia. Known colloquially as marsh hammocks, back-barrier islands are erosional remnants nested within estuarine salt marshes. As the population of coastal Georgia continues to grow, there is increasing interest in developing these areas for residential use. The state has identified over 1200 hammocks along the Georgia coast, totaling approximately 6900 hectares of upland, but little information is available regarding their ecological significance. In the summer and fall of 2002, we surveyed vegetation on 11 hammocks having minimal recent anthropogenic impacts. We found that overall vascular plant diversity is low, but in keeping with the theory of island biogeography, species richness tends to increase with back-barrier island size. Mean species richness values ranged from 6.50±1.64 for back-barrier islands less than 1.0 ha to 9.94±2.10 for those greater than 4.0 ha. The upland woody plant community is dominated by yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) and is found in association with representative maritime forest species of Georgia. Soil analyses indicate relatively low nitrogen (≤2%) and highly variable carbon values (1.7-48%). Planners, resource managers, and conservation organizations may use these findings to help designate important natural areas and develop projects or policies that promote their sustainable use.
Key words: island, hammock, back-barrier, Ilex vomitoria