The coastal prairie ecoregion is located along the northwestern coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico in North America. Because of agricultural and urban development, less than 1% of the original 3.4 million ha of this ecosystem type remains in native condition, making it one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. The objective of this study was to characterize the vegetation and environmental relationships in a relatively pristine example of lowland coastal prairie in order to provide information for use in conservation and restoration. The study area was a small, isolated prairie located near the southern boundary of the coastal prairie region. Samples were taken along three parallel transects that spanned the prairie. Parameters measured included species composition, elevation, soil characteristics, indications of recent disturbance, above-ground biomass, and light penetration through the plant canopy. Fifty-four species were found in the 107 0.25-m2 plots and a total of 96 species were found at the site. Only two non-native species occurred in sample plots, both of which were uncommon. Cluster analysis was used to identify six vegetation groups, which were primarily dominated by members of the Poaceae or Asteraceae. A conspicuous, natural edaphic feature of the prairie was the presence of 'mima' mounds, which are raised areas approximately 0.5 to 1 m high and 5 to 10 m across. Indicator species analysis revealed a significant number of species that were largely restricted to mounds and these were predominately upland and colonizing species. Ordination was performed using nonmetric, multidimensional scaling. The dominant environmental influence on species composition was found to be elevation and a host of correlated factors including those associated with soil organic content. A secondary group of factors, consisting primarily of soil cations, was found to explain additional variance among plots. Overall, this prairie was found to contain plant associations that are now rare in the surrounding landscape. Within the prairie, plant groups were largely separated by a suite of environmental conditions associated with topography. These results suggest that conservation and restoration efforts will need to carefully consider local topographic influences in order to be successful.
Additional publication details
Vegetation associations in a rare community type - Coastal tallgrass prairie