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forested river
Image Credit: John Porter/VCR LTER

Barrier islands’ harsh conditions, including nutrient and freshwater limitations and extremes of light and temperature, along with frequent large-scale disturbances, such as hurricanes, limit the number of plants species able to survive. As a result, successional trajectories can be convoluted. For instance, do lianas, climbing plants that simultaneously compete with existing flora while also opening up the canopy to other species, accelerate or delay the shift from woody communities to the historical climax community, maritime forest? New research suggests that both lianas’ and shrubs’ expansion is self-reinforcing and together, could increasingly delay or prevent forest succession in temperate coastal sires.