UAV-imaging to model growth response of marram grass to sand burial : Implications for coastal dune development

Nolet, Corjan; Puijenbroek, Marinka van; Suomalainen, Juha; Limpens, Juul; Riksen, M.J.P.M.


Vegetated coastal dunes have the capacity to keep up with sea-level rise by accumulating and stabilizing wind-blown sand. In Europe, this is attributed to marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), a coastal grass species that combines two unique advantages for dune-building: (1) a very high tolerance to burial by wind-blown sand, and (2) more vigorous growth due to positive feedback to sand burial. However, while these vegetation characteristics have been demonstrated, observational data has not been used to model a function to describe the growth response of Ammophila to sand burial. Studies that model coastal dune development by incorporating positive feedback, as a result, may be hampered by growth functions that are unvalidated against field data. Therefore, this study aims to parameterize an empirical relationship to model the growth response of Ammophila to burial by wind-blown sand.A coastal foredune along a nourished beach in the Netherlands was monitored from April 2015 to April 2016. High-resolution geospatial data was acquired using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Growth response of Ammophila, expressed by changes in Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (δ NDVI) and vegetation cover (δ Cover), is related to a sand burial gradient by fitting a Gaussian function using nonlinear quantile regression. The regression curves indicate an optimal burial rate for Ammophila of 0.31. m of sand per growing season, and suggest (by extrapolation of the data) a maximum burial tolerance for Ammophila between 0.78 (for δ Cover) and 0.96. m (for δ NDVI) of sand per growing season. These findings are advantageous to coastal management: maximizing the potential of Ammophila to develop dunes maximizes the potential of coastal dunes to provide coastal safety.