The Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) is an extremely dynamic, frequently disturbed landscape which is comprised of elements (e.g. grasslands, marshes) that differ in degrees normally associated with biome-level differences. Because the frequency of disturbance at the VCR is so great the types of ecosystem changes that would normally occur across large distances (continents, biomes) and over long periods of time (e.g. glacial and interglacial periods) happen on decadal time-scales. Ecosystem state changes are frequent. The central research theme of the VCR LTER project is the understanding of the dynamics of ecosystem state change, both the transitions among ecosystem states and succession within these states. The basic elements of this LTER's theoretical concept of landscape dynamics are that 1) there are "attractors" in the ecosystem state space within which successional dynamics operate and 2) there are events that produce transitions from one of these attractors to another. The VCR LTER will continue to study succession within several of the more prominent states (Myrica thickets and salt marshes) and the response of these states to disturbance. This will be accomplished by research in the NSF-defined LTER network core areas as well as additional VCR-established areas as well as additional VCR-established areas examining states and state changes that have occurred at the VCR in geologic, historic, and present-day context. The VCR LTER will address the following working hypotheses: 1) The controls on succession within states are the availability of water, the salinity of that water, the frequency of tidal inundation, and sediment deposition; and 2) Gradients in salinity and tidal inundation frequency and thus organic matter accumulation, primary productivity, and nutrients, are a function of the slope, sea level, and astronomical and storm tides. 3) Many ecological state changes are triggered by infrequent, short-duration, intense disturbances such as coastal storms. The products of the proposed work will be the development of a new theoretical base for maintenance and structuring of landscape, further elucidation of controls on ecosystem processes, and new ecosystem and landscape modeling approaches.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)
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University of Virginia
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