Date

2017

Major

Biology (B.S.B.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Dr. John Schenk

Abstract

Sandhill habitats are characterized by sandy, xeric soils that contain a unique assemblage of plants and animals. Similar to the broader long-leaf pine (Pinus palustris) and wire grass (Aristida stricta) ecosystem that sandhills are a subset of, agriculture, development, and habitat modifications have caused sandhill ecosystems to become degraded, putting many species at risk of extinction. Previous studies have focused on diversity within individual sandhills, leaving us with an incomplete understanding of how these communities form, what species are endemic, whether endemics are widespread across sandhills, and how species have adapted to these communities. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of these ecosystems, we sampled four Georgian Coastal Plain sandhills and compared species occurrences and life history patterns. Species diversity was positively correlated with sandhill area size, however, the proportion of endemic taxa was not influenced by area, as all four sites contained approximately the same number of endemics regardless of size. Endemic species differed from generalists in that the majority of species were herbaceous perennials. Sandhill generalists were seldom widespread across sites and mostly occurred on one or two sites. Taken together, our results provide the first opportunity to observe the dynamic nature of sandhill ecosystems, which we found to differ from one another due to endemic and generalist species turnover, but were consistently inhabited by a similar subset of taxa. Continued destruction of sandhill habitats will have a negative effect on plant species diversity, which could lead to the loss of the small, but important endemic sandhill community.

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