Purvis, K.G.; Gramling, J.M., and Murren, C.J., 2015. Assessment of beach access paths on dune vegetation: Diversity, abundance, and cover.
Coastal human populations are expanding and affecting plant communities, in particular dune systems. Coastal communities face risks from storm events, while coastal dune systems are heavily affected by human population and recreation pressures. Here, we evaluate the impacts of human disturbance (beach access paths) on vegetative cover and plant diversity in coastal dunes on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Transects were created in the foredune, middune, and backdune vegetation communities, and plots were placed 0, 1.5, 5, 10, and 20 m from a path to assess the impacts of three types of paths (public sand paths, private sand paths, and private wooden paths) at these distances on diversity, abundance, and measures of cover. Results indicate that beach access paths reduce biodiversity and density of beach dune vegetation. Sand paths contribute to greater reductions in vegetative cover than all wooden paths. Raised wooden paths compared to those at the sand surface have the least reduction in vegetation cover. Areas between closely spaced paths had reduced species richness and reduced percentage of vegetative cover compared to areas where paths were spaced at least 40 m apart. Dune vegetation plays a critical role in dune ecosystems by trapping and stabilizing sand. Areas of the dune that have reduced plant species diversity or lower levels of vegetation coverage are more prone to erosion and provide lower-quality habitat for other taxa. Current municipal regulations can be minimally altered to improve dune vegetation cover and richness while creating minimal inconvenience for beachfront homeowners and visitors.