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Responses of Dune Plant Communities to Continental Uplift from a Major Earthquake: Sudden Releases from Coastal Squeeze

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      Vegetated dunes are recognized as important natural barriers that shelter inland ecosystems and coastlines suffering daily erosive impacts of the sea and extreme events, such as tsunamis. However, societal responses to erosion and shoreline retreat often result in man-made coastal defence structures that cover part of the intertidal and upper shore zones causing coastal squeeze and habitat loss, especially for upper shore biota, such as dune plants. Coseismic uplift of up to 2.0 m on the Peninsula de Arauco (South central Chile, ca. 37.5º S) caused by the 2010 Maule earthquake drastically modified the coastal landscape, including major increases in the width of uplifted beaches and the immediate conversion of mid to low sandy intertidal habitat to supralittoral sandy habitat above the reach of average tides and waves. To investigate the early stage responses in species richness, cover and across-shore distribution of the hitherto absent dune plants, we surveyed two formerly intertidal armoured sites and a nearby intertidal unarmoured site on a sandy beach located on the uplifted coast of Llico (Peninsula de Arauco) over two years. Almost 2 years after the 2010 earthquake, dune plants began to recruit, then rapidly grew and produced dune hummocks in the new upper beach habitats created by uplift at the three sites. Initial vegetation responses were very similar among sites. However, over the course of the study, the emerging vegetated dunes of the armoured sites suffered a slowdown in the development of the spatial distribution process, and remained impoverished in species richness and cover compared to the unarmoured site. Our results suggest that when released from the effects of coastal squeeze, vegetated dunes can recover without restoration actions. However, subsequent human activities and management of newly created beach and dune habitats can significantly alter the trajectory of vegetated dune development. Management that integrates the effects of natural and human induced disturbances, and promotes the development of dune vegetation as natural barriers can provide societal and conservation benefits in coastal ecosystems.

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            Author and article information

            [1 ]Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR/CIMAR), University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
            [2 ]Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile
            [3 ]Marine Science Institute, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, United States of America
            [4 ]Institut für Erd- und Umweltwissenschaften, Universität Potsdam, Postdam, Germany
            University of New South Wales, AUSTRALIA
            Author notes

            Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

            Conceived and designed the experiments: EJ. Performed the experiments: IFR EJ CV. Analyzed the data: IFR. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: CV. Wrote the paper: IFR EJ DMH JED DM.

            Role: Academic Editor
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
            6 May 2015
            : 10
            : 5
            (Academic Editor)

            This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

            Figures: 9, Tables: 2, Pages: 18
            This study was supported by CONICYT Chile (National Commission for Science, Chile; through Proyectos Fondecyt 1090650 and 1121043 granted to EJ. Support for JED was provided by The Santa Barbara Coastal LTER funded by the National Science Foundation (award no. OCE-0620276). IFR is a postdoctoral fellow from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology–FCT (SFRH/BPD/87042/2012). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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