Evaluating plant community response to sea level rise and anthropogenic drying: Can life stage and competitive ability be used as indicators in guiding conservation actions? Dissertation

thesis or dissertation chair

fiu authors

  • Wendelberger, Kristie Susan


  • Increasing sea levels and anthropogenic disturbances have caused the world’s coastal vegetation to decline 25-50% in the past 50 years. Future sea level rise (SLR) rates are expected to increase, further threatening coastal habitats. In combination with SLR, the Everglades ecosystem has undergone large-scale drainage and restoration changing Florida’s coastal vegetation. Everglades National Park (ENP) has 21 coastal plant species threatened by SLR. My dissertation focuses on three aspects of coastal plant community change related to SLR and dehydration. 1) I assessed the extent and direction coastal communities—three harboring rare plant species—shifted from 1978 to 2011. I created a classified vegetation map and compared it to a 1978 map. I hypothesized coastal communities transitioned from less salt- and inundation-tolerant to more salt- and inundation-tolerant communities. I found communities shifted as hypothesized, suggesting the site became saltier and wetter. Additionally, all three communities harboring rare plants shrunk in size. 2) I evaluated invading halophyte (salt-tolerant) plant influence on soil salinity via a replacement series greenhouse experiment. I used two halophytes and two glycophytes (non-salt-tolerant) to look at soil salinity over time under 26 and 38‰ groundwater. I hypothesized that halophytes increase soil salinity as compared to glycophytes through continued transpiration during dry, highly saline periods. My results supported halophytic influence on soil salinity; however, not from higher transpiration rates. Osmotic or ionic stress likely decreased glycophytic biomass resulting in less overall plant transpiration. 3) I assessed the best plant life-stage to use for on-the-ground plot-based community change monitoring. I tested the effects of increasing salinity (0, 5, 15, 30, and 45‰) on seed germination and seedling establishment of five coastal species, and compared my results to salinity effects on one-year olds and adults of the same species. I hypothesized that seedling establishment was the most vulnerable life-stage to salt stress. The results supported my hypothesis; seedling establishment is the life-stage best monitored for community change. Additionally, I determined the federally endangered plant Chromolaena frustrata’s salinity tolerance. The species was sensitive to salinity >5‰ at all developmental stages suggesting C. frustrata is highly threatened by SLR.

publication date

  • June 17, 2016


  • Sea level rise
  • anthropogenic disturbance and stress
  • coastal plant community change
  • community shift
  • competition
  • conservation
  • halophyte encroachment
  • plant life stage
  • rare plant species
  • remote sensing
  • soil salinity
  • vegetation classification

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)