Virginia Coast Reserve LTER

Graduate student Aime Aguiar studies wading bird feeding behaviors from a tower on the Machipongo Station on Hog Island. (Photo by Xuegong Xu)

Key Research Findings:

Twenty years of VCR research has revealed how the response of marshes to sea-level rise varies depending on vegetation type, landscape position, and sensitivity to disturbance. Understanding this variation is critical to predicting how sea-level rise will affect the diversity of waterbirds, marine invertebrates, and fin fishes that depend on marshland habitats.
VCR scientists discovered that bottom-dwelling plants and microbes control nutrient cycling in shallow coastal bays, contrary to expectations. This discovery is helping scientists better predict how land-use change and eutrophication will impact these vulnerable ecosystems and the important fisheries and marine biodiversity they support.
By tracking long-term shifts in land cover on undeveloped coastal barrier ecosystems, VCR scientists have learned how sea-level rise and storms interact to create a highly dynamic landscape. While the locations of lagoons, marshes, and barrier islands have changed over time, they have not experienced significant net reductions in the area they cover.

Overview:

Research activities of the VCR/LTER focus on the mosaic of transitions and steady-state systems that comprise the barrier-island/lagoon/mainland landscape of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Primary study sites are located on Hog Island, Parramore Island and mainland marshes near Nassawadox VA. The VCR/LTER uses field laboratory and housing facilities at the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center in Oyster, VA.


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History:

The Virginia Coast Reserve/Long-Term Ecological Research Program began operation in 1987. In VCR/LTER I (1997-1992) we focused on geophysical controls (e.g., storms) on coastal ecosystems. In VCR/LTER II (1992-1994) we introduced the concept of ecological state change, which was linked in VCR/LTER III (1994-2000) to relationships between free surfaces (land, sea, freshwater table). Under the VCR/LTER IV grant (2000-2006), we have added a hypsometric perspective, which provides an alternate way of examining ecological patterns on the coastal landscape. LTER V (2006-2012) adds a focus on how fluxes of organisms and materials across the landscape influence ecosystem dynamics and state change.

Research Topics:

Holocene barrier island geology; salt marsh ecology, geology, and hydrology; ecology/evolution of insular vertebrates; primary/secondary succession; life-form modeling of succession.


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