Date of Award

Spring 2007

Document Type

Legacy Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies


Coastal and Marine Systems Science


College of Science

First Advisor

Kevin S. Godwin

Second Advisor

James O. Luken

Third Advisor

John J. Hutchens, Jr.


Carolina bays are one of the most interesting and unique wetland features of the southeastern Atlantic Coastal Plain. These elliptical wetlands range widely with regards to size and are most commonly described as precipitation driven, isolated wetlands. Although this wetland type has been extensively studied in southeastern South Carolina, Carolina bays in northeastern South Carolina are relatively unstudied. Qualitative accounts maintain that Carolina bays in this region contain several different plant communities, but are typically dominated by three community types: pocosin, bay forest and pond cypress. Although there is little quantitative information regarding the Carolina bays in northeastern South Carolina, it is thought that these communities are shaped by complex interactions among landscape position, fire, hydrology, and organic soil depth. This research had two objectives: 1) Quantitatively describe the current vegetation, local abiotic condition and disturbance to the surrounding landscape in nine Carolina bays, reflective of three broadly-defined a priori community types (i.e., pocosin, bay forest, pond cypress); 2) Refine the a priori community designations using quantitative classification techniques and further relate observed differences in plant community composition to measured local abiotic condition and disturbance in the surrounding landscape. I sampled nine Carolina bays that occur within protected areas throughout the northeastern South Carolina. Three each were purported to contain an example of the community type of interest (i.e., pocosin, bay forest and pond cypress). I quantified vegetation composition, water levels, water chemistry, depth of organic matter, described soils and derived hydrologic and disturbance variables from NWI wetland maps. Using a combination of multivariate cluster analysis, ordination and MRPP (multiple response permutation procedure), I found that the sample plots did not align themselves directly with a priori community types. Instead, two vegetation classes occurred within the nine sample plots, Evergreen Shrub-bog and Pond cypress/Gum Depression. Shallow pore-water pH, depth of peat, and NWI hydrology were significantly correlated with the observed differences in plant species composition between the two vegetation classes. Although evidence of fire was detected in all plots, this factor was not identified as a significant driver of vegetation development in the two classes. This may be due to the coarse measurement of time since last fire. Additional research regarding the variation of plant communities along the ecological gradients identified in this study will provide valuable insight to the conservation and restoration activities associated with Carolina bays in northeastern South Carolina.