Coastal beaches often harbor a relatively small number of specialized herbaceous species that are locally abundant, providing stabilization of sediments regularly subjected to wind and sand movement. However, rare storm events can cause water surges that completely wash over the beach and cause a major disturbance to the plant community. This study examines frequencies and densities of key herbaceous species on Miller Field Beach, Staten Island, New York, before and after major storm surges caused by Hurricane Irene (August 2011) and Superstorm Sandy (October 2012). Changes in vegetation were documented by surveys of the same 45–75-m section of beach, using quadrats (33 cm diameter) placed at 3-m intervals along transects, in mid-September of 2007, 2009, 2011 (2 wk after Irene), 2012 (1 mo before Sandy), and 2013. Native annual species, including Cenchrus tribuloides L. (dune sandbur), Heterotheca subaxillaris (Lam.) Britton & Rusby (camphorweed), and Triplasis purpurea (Walter) Chapm. (purple sandgrass) abundance was reduced by the first surge, but the latter two species were able to recover to presurge levels by autumn 2012. However, after the second surge in 2012, H. subaxillaris and C. tribuloides were no longer found in quadrats sampled in autumn 2013, unable to recover their population densities to presurge levels. In contrast, most of the native perennials (e.g., Ammophila breviligulata Fernald [American beachgrass]) were able to maintain ramet populations at their presurge densities, and one species (Panicum amarum Elliott [bitter panicgrass]) showed a dramatic increase in abundance the year after Superstorm Sandy. Seedlings of seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens L.) contributed to an increase in its density in the season after the first surge. The two rhizomatous grasses A. breviligulata and P. amarum have growth forms that are adapted to partial burial by sand and are vitally important to vegetation reestablishment following beach disturbance by storm surges along the northeastern Atlantic coast.
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