Maritime forest are the 'climax community' for barrier islands such as Bald Head Island. This habitat with its mix of old growth trees, shrubs and more developed soils, binds sand providing the greatest stability and erosion control of any barrier island habitat. Live oaks (Quercus virginiana) are the largest of trees on Bald Head Island and therefore habitat providers for a multitude of species. It is for these reasons that the Conservancy monitors the maritime forest in an effort to better understand its natural cycles and identify threats to long term stability and health.
Bald Head Woods Nature Trail guide.
Deer Impacts on the Maritime Forest
Deer impacts on maritime forest vegetation of the Bald Head Woods Coastal Reserve were investigated by Dr. John Taggart (UNCW) and his students. Twenty 10m x 10m plots, each consisting of an unfenced control and fenced exclosure, were established in 2007 and were sampled regularly for about four years to determine if significant changes occurred in tree, shrub, or herb layers as a result of deer browsing. The results were interpreted relative to past land uses, tree age, storm events, etc. Particular attention was paid to canopy trees, primarily live oak and sand laurel oak, to see if long-term changes were likely to occur (Taggart and Long 2013).
Laurel Wilt Monitoring Program
Laurel wilt disease, spread by the non-native red bay ambrosia beetle, represents a significant threat to the maritime forest. Laurel wilt disease has devastated red bay trees along the East Coast of the United States since its introduction via the port of Savannah, GA in 2002. Currently, red bay constitutes approximately 30% of the BHI maritime forest understory, and an outbreak of laurel wilt could reduce this percentage significantly. Such a large shift in species composition and reduction of biodiversity may effectively destabilize the maritime forest. A comprehensive forest monitoring program and restoration plan is needed. As the most effective storm buffer, biologically diverse and nationally rare habitat on island, the stability and conservation of BHI’s maritime forest should be a top priority.
Redbay (Persea borbonia) abundance and the potential effect of Laurel Wilt Disease in the Bald Head Woods Reserve, North Carolina, USA (Dewire 2011).
Summer 2014 Update
Summer monitoring of SILT properties and large red bay trees indicated no presence of laurel wilt monitoring. Deer browse was observed at several places in the forest, but not extensively. Properties and large trees will be monitored for laurel wilt and deer browse again in the next quarter. Updates will be posted here.