Date of Award

Spring 2006

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

James O. Luken

Second Advisor

Kevin S. Godwin

Third Advisor

John J. Hutchens, Jr.


Carolina bays are elliptical, shallow depressional wetlands, often containing many rare and threatened species. They are most common on the Southeast Coastal Plain in the Carolinas and are occasionally surrounded by ecologically diverse pine savannas. The ecotone (transitional area) between wetlands and pine savannas has also been identified as important habitat for rare plants, many of them endemic to the Carolina Coastal Plain. My objective was to measure plant species diversity and distribution in relation to habitat variables in the wetland and upland boundary zone between Carolina bays and pine savanna. Hydrologic and soil properties were evaluated and relative elevation of each vegetation plot along individual transects was measured. A change in plant species composition existed along transects, from a less diverse community of tall shrubs inside the bays, to a more diverse community with many herbaceous plants in addition to a few shrubs outside the bays. A broad distinct ecotone was found in seven of twelve transects. Each bay and associated ecotone had a few species only found at that bay. Five species of plants endemic, or near endemic, to the Carolina Coastal Plain, including one rare species, were found outside the jurisdictional wetland boundaries. All five species at least occasionally occur in wetlands in the southeast, according to their wetland indicator status. Several variables, such as species richness and water pH, significantly differed between long and short axes of the bays. Information gained with these methods can be used to develop management guidelines to protect both Carolina bays and their associated species, including plants of concern or special interest. Also, as this study shows, sometimes species living in or using wetlands live outside the jurisdictional wetland boundaries, suggesting the land surrounding wetlands needs to be protected as well. Although this study focuses on Carolina bays, these methods could be used at other wetland types, particularly surficially isolated wetlands, on the Coastal Plain. Examination of the ecotones around other isolated wetlands would likely find other species linked with these transitional areas.