Hurricanes mimic effects of global climate change on coastal forests

By Stephanie Beard

hurricane damage along Turkey Creek near Georgetown, SC Most people are familiar with damage to trees from hurricane winds, but may not realize that storm surge also damages coastal wetland forests. Hurricane-driven storm surges introduce salt water into areas that are typically freshwater ecosystems.

William Conner, wetlands expert at Clemson’s Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, studies water salinity levels, tree growth, gas levels, and nutrient cycling to document changes that occur over time due to global climate change and hurricanes. Both events push salt water inland where it causes tidal freshwater forests to change slowly into marshes as trees die. These studies, in South Carolina and Louisiana, are conducted in cooperation with the U. S. Geological Survey’s National Wetlands Research Center.

He is also studying the genetics of cypress trees that survive in spite of salt stress. His goal is to determine whether there are genetic differences in these trees that allow them to tolerate salt. If so, seeds from these trees can be grown and saplings replanted in areas where salt water has killed the forest.

For information: Dr. William Conner, 843-546-1013,