What are the general tree communities found in tidal freshwater swamps along four large coastal rivers in the southeastern United States (US)? How do these communities compare to other tidal freshwater swamps in the US and South America?
Tidal floodplains of major rivers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the southeastern US: Savannah, Altamaha, Suwannee and Apalachicola Rivers.
An extensive survey of trees and shrubs was conducted to describe the communities from a range of tidal freshwater swamps. River basins studied include micro-tidal (Gulf coast) and meso-tidal (Atlantic coast) regimes, and study areas were located both near and distant to primary channels. A total of 128 plots (100 m2 each) were inventoried, distributed evenly over the Savannah and Altamaha Rivers along the Atlantic coast, and the Suwannee and Apalachicola Rivers along the Gulf coast. Multivariate statistics helped discern communities and the significant indicator species in each.
Four general communities were characterized and named according to the strongest individual indicator species in each: Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) Community, Swamp Tupelo (Nyssa biflora) Community, Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor) Community and Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto) Community.
Descriptions of most tidal freshwater swamps in the southeastern US fit within the communities described in this study. Because studies that make inferences between environmental drivers (e.g. salinity, hydroperiod, hurricanes) and specific community types are best applied to the same communities (but perhaps different river systems), this work provides a framework by which tidal freshwater forested wetlands can be accurately compared based on their tree communities. We suggest that, within the broad range of our inventories, the four communities described identify the primary associations that should be tracked within most tidal freshwater swamps of the US. However, we identify some river basins in the US that do not fit this construct. Diversity of major tree communities in tidal freshwater swamps outside the US is generally much lower (with the notable exception of Amazonian hardwood tidal várzea), as are basal area values.