Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER program


Photo: Solidago sempervirens, a common salt marsh plant.

Photo: Hesperotettix floridensis, a grasshopper common on salt marsh shrubs in the southeast.

Photo: Installing sediment elevation tables (SETs) to measure accumulation and compaction of marsh sediments. We have installed one SET at each of our 10 sites.

Photo: GCE Field Research Coordinator Jacob Shalack in the field.

Photo: Greenhouse experiment with Juncus roemerianus.

Photo: postdoc Kazik Wieski with field mesocosms.


The U.S. Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network consists of a group of sites that receive long-term funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation to study ecological processes at large spatial and long temporal scales. Sites are funded for 6 years at a time, with the expectation of repeated renewals.


The Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER site is a fairly recent addition to the network, with initial funding received in 2000. The GCE web page has extensive information about research and education activities at the site. Our research is built around a network of 10 sites that span the range of different salinity and marsh types that occur on the Georgia coast.


Our research at the GCE-LTER site focuses on aspects of plant primary production, plant community structure and plant-herbivore interactions.  My lab is monitoring primary production at creekbank and mid-marsh plots at ten sites on annual basis to examine spatial and annual variation in primary production.  My lab is  monitoring plant community composition in permanent plots and conducting experiments to examine annual variation in plant community composition and how the factors that structure plant communities change across the coastal landscape. Finally, my lab is examining plant-herbivore interactions to determine how these change across the coastal landscape and across latitude.


Some recent GCE publications:

Li, S. and S. C. Pennings. 2016. Disturbance in Georgia salt marshes: variation across space and time. Ecosphere 7(10):e01487. DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.1487

Liu, W., Maung-Douglass, K., Strong, D.R., Pennings, S.C. and Zhang, Y. 2016. Geographical variation in vegetative growth and sexual reproduction of the invasive Spartina alterniflora in China. Journal of Ecology 104:173-181.

Więski, K. and S. C. Pennings. 2013. Climate drivers of Spartina alterniflora saltmarsh production in Georgia, USA. Ecosystems. DOI: 10.1007/s10021-013-9732-6.

Guo, H., K. Więski, Z. Lan and S. C. Pennings. 2014. Relative influence of deterministic processes on structuring marsh plant communities varies across an abiotic gradient. Oikos 123:173-178. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2013.00425.x.

Schalles, J. F., C. M. Hladik, A. A. Lynes and S. C. Pennings. 2013. Landscape estimates of habitat types, plant biomass, and invertebrate densities in a Georgia salt marsh. Oceanography 26:88-97.

Pennings, S. C. 2013. Forging collaborations between ecology and historical ecology.  In V. D. Thompson and J. C. Waggoner Jr. (eds.), The archaeology and historical ecology of small scale economies.  The University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Guo, H. and S. C. Pennings. 2012. Post-mortem ecosystem engineering by oysters creates habitat for a rare marsh plant. Oecologia 170:789-798.

Guo, H. and S. C. Pennings.  2012.  Mechanisms mediating plant distributions across estuarine landscapes in a low-latitude tidal estuary.  Ecology 93(1):90-100.

Więski, K., H. Guo, C. B. Craft and S. C. Pennings.  2010.  Ecosystem functions of tidal fresh, brackish, and salt marshes on the Georgia Coast.  Estuaries and Coasts 33:161-169.

Robinson, J. D., E. Diaz-Ferguson, M. F. Poelchau, S. Pennings, T. D. Bishop, J. Wares.  2010. Multiscale diversity in the marshes of the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER.  Estuaries and Coasts 33:865-877.

Craft, C., J. Clough, J. Ehman, S. Joye, R. Park, S. Pennings, H. Guo, M. Machmuller.  2009.  Forecasting the effects of accelerated sea level rise on tidal marsh ecosystem services.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 7:73-78.

Collins, S. L., K. N. Suding, E. E. Cleland, M. Batty, S. C. Pennings, K. L. Gross, J. B. Grace, L. Gough, J. E. Fargione and C. M. Clark.  2008.  Rank clocks and plant community dynamics.  Ecology 89:3534-3541.

 Kunza, A. E. and S. C. Pennings.  2008. Patterns of plant diversity in Georgia and Texas salt marshes.  Estuaries and Coasts 31:673-681.

McFarlin, C. R. J. S. Brewer, T. L. Buck and S. C. Pennings.  2008. Impact of fertilization on a salt marsh food web in Georgia.  Estuaries and Coasts 31:313-325.

Clark, C. M., Cleland, E. E., Collins, S. L., Fargione, J. E., Gough L., Gross, K. L., Pennings, S. C., Suding, K. N., Grace, J. B.  2007.  Environmental and plant community determinants of species loss following nitrogen enrichment.  Ecology Letters 10:596-607.

Sharitz, R. R., Pennings, S. C.  2006.  Development of wetland plant communities.  In, Ecology of freshwater and estuarine wetlands, D. P. Batzer and R. R. Sharitz (eds.), University of California Press.

Suding, K. N., Collins, S. L., Gough L., Clark, C., Cleland, E. E., Gross, K. L., Milchunas, D. G., Pennings, S.  2005.  Functional- and abundance-based mechanisms explain diversity loss due to N fertilization.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 102:4387-4392.

Updated 12/2016