Influence of infrastructure development on the vegetation community structure of coastal dunes: Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Van der Merwe, Peet
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Coastal dunes are increasingly at risk due to pressures deriving from global climate change, sea level rise, recreation and development. The consequences of the “coastal squeeze” in which dunes are placed, such as erosion and the loss of critical ecosystem services, are usually followed by expensive restoration and protection measures, many of which are unsuccessful. Due to the poor understanding and acknowledgement of the key attributes of coastal dunes in decision making processes, it is essential to provide scientific data on the impacts of human interference on coastal dunes so as to inform executives and guide them towards a sustainable management of the coastal zone. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of five different levels of infrastructure development on the vegetation community structure of coastal dunes in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. The effects of infrastructure development on dune vegetation were quantified by measuring the richness, diversity, cover, height and composition of plant species. With an increase in infrastructure development a significant decrease in dune width, average species richness and height of the plants occurred, accompanied by a shift in plant community composition. The foredunes that were backed immediately by infrastructure presented significantly greater species richness, diversity, cover and height compared with the foredunes abutted by primary dunes. This study demonstrated that coastal dunes are environments which are sensitive to varying levels of human impact. Informed and comprehensive management planning of these environments is therefore imperative for the restoration and maintenance of remnant dunes and for the conservation of undeveloped coastal dunes.