Impact of marine inundation after a period of drought on the lakeshore vegetation of Lake St Lucia, South Africa: resilience of estuarine vegetation
The shore of Lake St Lucia in the vicinity of Catalina Bay, in the southern part of the lake, receives freshwater input as surface and groundwater seepage from the adjacent elevated coastal plain. Vegetation, water quality and landform were recorded on the lakeshore and on the dry lakebed near one of these seepage zones. This was done along a gradient perpendicular to the lakeshore and along the lakeshore away from the fluvial source of freshwater input. A number of plant communities were found along a gradient of water salinity from the shoreline (fresh water) towards the centre of the lake, and also away from the fluvial input of water (increasingly saline). Species richness decreased with increasing salinity. The first study was conducted in 2006 after a prolonged drought associated with low lake levels and closure of the mouth, and repeated again in 2010 three years after breaching of the estuarine mouth by a tropical cyclone at sea, which caused inundation of the partly dry lakebed with sea water. The vegetation of the lakeshore after these major disturbances was remarkably similar in the two time periods, suggesting rapid recovery near freshwater seepage zones, following an influx of sea water.
Keywords: disturbance, environmental gradients, estuarine lake, hydrogeochemistry, vegetation dynamics