Vegetation in intermittently flooded wetlands is strongly affected by the influence of hydrologic condition on species establishment and survival. The vegetation of four herbaceous depression meadow Carolina bay wetlands on the Upper Coastal Plain in the southeastern USA was sampled while systems were flooded in 1999 and again in 2002, near the end of a multi-year drought during which all bays were dry. The seed banks of these bays were sampled in the spring of 2000 and their relationship to the extant vegetation at both ends of the hydrologic spectrum examined. All bays lost previously abundant perennial aquatic species during the drought, and grasses, especially a rhizomatous perennial, Panicum hemitomon, expanded. While approximately half the species in the vegetation were also found in the seed bank, more than 60% of species in the seed bank were never detected in the vegetation. Also, widespread species in the vegetation, especially grasses and aquatic herbs, were rare or absent in the seed bank. The results of the study were consistent with a cyclic model of herbaceous Carolina bay vegetation dynamics in which aquatic and grass species dominate in turn as climate oscillates between wet and dry periods. Further, it appears that, in herbaceous Carolina bays, a handful of dominant aquatic and grass species in the vegetation may influence composition more strongly than widespread recruitment from the seed bank as hydrologic condition fluctuates.
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Vol. 25 • No. 3