THREATENED AND ENDANGERED SPECIES
Barrier islands provide a rare habitat for many species of plants and animals that are specially adapted to life "…on the bar." Vast numbers of invertebrates make their homes on barrier islands, as attested to by the abundance of mosquitos and sandflies which attack the unprepared island visitor. Huge numbers of marine invertebrates wash up on the beach, providing the casual visitor with opportunities to collect some of the more than 1,100 species of seashells which inhabit South Carolina. This is matched with the huge diversity of vertebrate and plant species which make their homes on barrier islands. One endangered species even helps to build the island!
One of the most conspicuous plants seen waving in the sea breezes on the windward side of a barrier island is a tall, usually tan-colored, plant called sea oats, which is specially adapted to survive the salt spray of an open beach front. With a seed head vaguely reminiscent of its more familiar distant grass cousin, wheat, sea oats plants are one of the dune builders on the inland side of a beach. At the plant's base is a swirl of long slender leaves intertwined like steel wool. As onshore winds blow across the beach surface, they pick up sand and organic nutrients. The intertwined leaves of sea oats provide a baffle which causes the winds to drop their sand and nutrient loads at the bases of the individual plants, building additional height to the dunes on which the plants grow and, additionally, allowing the plants to acquire the nutrients necessary to live in this harsh environment.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013