Sand dunes reduce the impact of storms on shorelines and human infrastructure. The ability of these ecosystems to provide sustained coastal protection under persistent wave attack depends on their resistance to erosion. Although flume experiments show that roots of perennial plants contribute to foredune stabilization, the role of other plant organs, and of annual species, remains poorly studied. Furthermore, it remains unknown if restored foredunes provide the same level of erosion resistance as natural foredunes. We investigated the capacity of three widespread pioneer foredune species (the perennial Ammophila arenaria and the annuals Cakile maritima and Salsola kali) to resist dune erosion, and compared the erosion resistance of Ammophila at natural and restored sites.
Cores collected in the field were tested in a flume that simulated a wave swash. A multi-model inference approach was used to disentangle the contributions of different below-ground compartments (i.e. roots, rhizomes, buried shoots) to erosion resistance.
All three species reduced erosion, with Ammophila having the strongest effect (36 % erosion reduction versus unvegetated cores). Total below-ground biomass (roots, rhizomes and shoots), rather than any single compartment, most parsimoniously explained erosion resistance. Further analysis revealed that buried shoots had the clearest individual contribution. Despite similar levels of total below-ground biomass, coarser sediment reduced erosion resistance of Ammophila cores from the restored site relative to the natural site.
The total below-ground biomass of both annual and perennial plants, including roots, rhizomes and buried shoots, reduced dune erosion under a swash regime. Notably, we show that (1) annual pioneer species offer erosion protection, (2) buried shoots are an important plant component in driving sediment stabilization, and (3) management must consider both biological (plants and their traits) and physical (grain size) factors when integrating dunes into schemes for coastal protection.