Dune Plant Biophysical Traits and Their Impacts on Erosion
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Increasing frequency and severity of storms has translated into a greater interest in coastal protection, due to fears of storm damage to homes and communities. In the past, communities used man-made structures such as sea walls to mitigate the damage from storms, but recently more natural solutions have come into favor. We present empirically-derived values for biophysical attributes of commonly occurring sandy beach and dune plant species, including stem height, density diameter, and strength; number of leaves, their area of cover, and hardness; and quantities of aboveground, belowground, and root biomass. These parameters can be used to further explore the interactions between vegetation, wave attenuation, sediment accumulation and erosion through more realistic experiments, and analytic or numerical models. We also used wave flume experiments with living vegetation to investigate both the capacity of dune plants to reduce erosion and the specific mechanisms by which this occurs. In particular, our study focused on the relationship between the ratio of above ground biomass to below ground biomass and the resulting differences in levels of erosion. We found that all plant species reduced erosion equally. Dunes with below ground biomass only (BG) experienced more erosion than dunes with whole plants (AGBG), but un-vegetated controls experienced about twice as much erosion as either BG or ABGB treatments. Linear regressions singled out high above ground biomass as the primary factor correlated with decreased erosion, and this was corroborated by reduced erosion in the back half of AGBG treatments compared to GB treatments. Coastal protection strategies, such as dune restoration, are of vital importance to not only the quality of coastal ecosystems, but also for the continued well-being of the disproportionate number of people that live on or near the coasts. Our findings provide needed information for coastal managers and policy makers, while also setting the stage for future research at the intersection of ecological and physical processes on vulnerable coastlines.
Furman, Matthew Robbins (2016). Dune Plant Biophysical Traits and Their Impacts on Erosion. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from