Dune Habitat

Depending on the intensity of a storm, dunes can serve as a defensive barrier for habitats on the bayside of dunes, helping to block storm surge and dissipate wave energy. However, storm surge can also flood the cuts between dunes, severely erode dune faces, or flatten the dune environment. In San Diego County, California, for example, coastal dunes provide habitat for endangered species such as California least tern (Sterna antillarum), San Diego horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum blainvillei), and sand dune tiger beetle (Cicindela latesiguata latesiguata), so maritime stress was devastating on these species during the Great Storm of ’88. In addition, Hurricane Hugo (1989) destroyed approximately 25% of the “unhatched” loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) nests in coastal South Carolina (Cely 1991).

Storms can have the effect of reverting coastal dune habitat to a less mature state of plant development that is characterized by low species diversity and minimal vegetative cover. Severe storms can even “sterilize” the dune environment (Fink 1989), which can have the positive effect of eliminating exotic vegetation. However, many native plant species may also be extirpated as a result. For example, the Great Storm of ’88 eliminated exotic glycophytes (plants adapted to live in soils with high concentrations of salts) but also native perennials such as evening primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia), goldenbush (Isocoma venetus), and beach lotus (Lotus nuttalianus) from dune habitat along the coast of California (Fink 1989). Other species of perennial plants that are better suited to this harsh environment, for example sand verbena (Abronia maritima) and beach burr (Ambrosia chamissonis), were temporarily set back but resprouted within eight weeks (Fink 1989).

Last updated: July 16, 2019