Hydroperiod is considered the primary determinant of plant species distribution in temperate floodplain forests, but most studies have focused on alluvial (sediment-laden) river systems. Few studies have evaluated plant community relationships in blackwater river systems of the South Atlantic Coastal Plain of North America. In this study, we characterized the soils, hydroperiod, and vegetation communities and evaluated relationships between the physical and chemical environment and plant community structure on the floodplain of the Coosawhatchie River, a blackwater river in South Carolina, USA. The soils were similar to previous descriptions of blackwater floodplain soils but had greater soil N and P availability, substantially greater clay content, and lower soil silt content than was previously reported for other blackwater river floodplains. Results of a cluster analysis showed there were five forest communities on the site, and both short-term (4 years) and long-term (50 years) flooding records documented a flooding gradient: water tupelo community > swamp tupelo > laurel oak = overcup oak > mixed oak. The long-term hydrologic record showed that the floodplain has flooded less frequently from 1994 to present than in previous decades. Detrended correspondence analysis of environmental and relative basal area values showed that 27% of the variation in overstory community structure could be explained by the first two axes; however, fitting the species distributions to the DCA axes using Gaussian regression explained 67% of the variation. Axes were correlated with elevation (flooding intensity) and soil characteristics related to rooting volume and cation nutrient availability. Our study suggests that flooding is the major factor affecting community structure, but soil characteristics also may be factors in community structure in blackwater systems.
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Vol. 23 • No. 4