Today was a stellar day for the Coastal Plant Ecology Lab! Spencer Bissett successfully defended his dissertation titled CONSEQUENCES OF VINE INFESTATION: LINKING ABIOTIC INFLUENCES AND BIOTIC INTERACTIONS TO SUCCESSIONAL AND STRUCTURAL CHANGES IN COASTAL COMMUNITIES. His research focused on coastal habitats which are inherently vulnerable to the effects of global change at the interface of marine and terrestrial systems. Barrier island systems in particular serve not only as protective buffers against storm events, but also as sentinel ecosystems for observation of the impacts of sea level rise, and of increasing storm frequency and intensity. In the mid-Atlantic region, shrub thickets of Morella species compose the dominant woody community. Spencer's objective was to investigate the distribution and community roles of vine species in mid-Atlantic barrier island woody communities. He quantified environmental variables at two barrier habitats with differing site management histories and corresponding topography, and found that abiotic factors affected distributions of woody species, which subsequently affected vine species distributions. Vines demonstrated a long-lasting effect of arresting or delaying succession, and are potentially responsible for the lack of redevelopment of mature maritime forest at these sites. At Hog Island, Virginia, remotely-sensed data were utilized to determine the three-dimensional structural effects of vine infiltration in woody canopies. Vines were found to reduce canopy height and depth, and increase density, short-term diversity, and light-intercepting biomass. Significant vine infiltration can accelerate senescence of shrub thickets, but often results in persistent tangled masses of vegetation which reduce recruitment of later-successional species. These effects may represent long-term, lasting impacts of vine establishment and expansion in these habitats, affecting community succession towards diverse and stable maritime forest, and significantly altering resource dynamics in these sensitive ecosystems.
Congratulations Dr. Bissett! Your achievement is well earned!
Spencer just moments after passing his defense. Somehow a Hawaiian shirt materialized out of nowhere.