Publication Date



Nature Communications


Vegetation dieback and recovery may be dependent on the interplay between infrequent acute disturbances and underlying chronic stresses. Coastal wetlands are vulnerable to the chronic stress of sea-level rise, which may affect their susceptibility to acute disturbance events. Here, we show that a large-scale vegetation dieback in the Mississippi River Delta was precipitated by salt-water incursion during an extreme drought in the summer of 2012 and was most severe in areas exposed to greater flooding. Using 16 years of data (2007-2022) from a coastwide network of monitoring stations, we show that the impacts of the dieback lasted five years and that recovery was only partial in areas exposed to greater inundation. Dieback marshes experienced an increase in percent time flooded from 43% in 2007 to 75% in 2022 and a decline in vegetation cover and species richness over the same period. Thus, while drought-induced high salinities and soil saturation triggered a significant dieback event, the chronic increase in inundation is causing a longer-term decline in cover, more widespread losses, and reduced capacity to recover from acute stressors. Overall, our findings point to the importance of mitigating the underlying stresses to foster resilience to both acute and persistent causes of vegetation loss.


Droughts, Rivers, Wetlands, Sea Level Rise, Floods, Mississippi, Plants, Biodiversity, Ecosystem, Salinity, Wetlands ecology, Community ecology, Hydrology, Natural hazards



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