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Georgia Coastal Ecosystems Long Term Ecological Research Site

Sub Type:
Research Areas:
NSF Award:

LTER: Georgia Coastal Ecosystems-II  (University of Georgia Research Foundation Inc)

Research Focus

The Georgia Coastal Ecosystems (GCE) LTER site, located on the central Georgia coast, seeks to understand how variation in the quality, source and amount of both fresh and salt water effect estuarine habitats and processes. This knowledge helps GCE LTER scientists predict changes that may occur in response to long-term shifts in estuarine salinity patterns.

The program's research encompasses three adjacent sounds (Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo) and includes upland (mainland, barrier islands, marsh hammocks), intertidal (fresh, brackish and salt marsh) and submerged (river, estuary, continental shelf) habitats.

Research Outcomes

Salt Marsh Herbivores: GCE scientists discovered that herbivores such as grasshoppers are more abundant and do more damage to plants in salt marshes at low versus high latitudes. This finding helps explain geographic variation in the palatability of coastal plants and in herbivore body size. 

Sea Level Rise: GCE scientists predict significant declines in wetland area in response to sea level rise. However, because different types of wetlands provide varying levels of ecosystem services, the loss of services due to sea level rise is actually less than forecast based on losses of total wetland area alone. 

Nitrogen to the Coast: GCE scientists determined that only 9 percent of the nitrogen that enters watersheds in the southeastern U.S. is transported to the coast, compared to 25 percent in the northeast. They suggest that the difference is due to increased temperatures in the south, and that global estimates of nitrogen export are too high.

To be or not to be: The density of marine organisms varies tremendously among and within habitats, leading to very different communities. GCE scientists combined ecological approaches with modern genetic analyses to reveal how abundance and genetic diversity of larvae vary from inland to offshore, with important implications for populations of snails, barnacles, and other organisms.

Education & Outreach

The goal of GCE outreach is to enhance scientific understanding of Georgia coastal ecosystems by the public, coastal managers, and scientists. To this end, GCE runs a schoolyard program, supports the Georgia Coastal Research Council, trains undergraduate and graduate students and interacts with scientists inside and outside the LTER network. GCE scientists speak directly to the public in a variety of forums, regularly giving seminars and public presentations, and talking to the media about coastal issues. 

GCE personnel routinely provide visitor tours to both the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and the University of Georgia Marine Institute.

The GCE Schoolyard Program trains K-12 educators in field ecology, immersing science and math teachers in hands-on research activities in the field to enable them to bring lessons and actual research data back to the classroom. 

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Images (1 of )

  • small green frog on leaf blade
  • shrimp on man's third and fourth fingers
  • scientist in marshes
  • scientist in field with equipment
Hyla cinerea
Steve Pennings/GCE LTER
Peppermint shrimp collected from a hydrographic data sonde
Steve Pennings/GCE LTER
Flux tower scouting field trip in marshes along the Duplin River
John Vande Castle/GCE LTER
Flux tower scouting field trip in marshes along the Duplin River
John Vande Castle/GCE LTER