Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

Document Type



River deltas are dynamic depositional environments that are controlled to varying degrees by coastal and fluvial forces. Plant communities in deltas respond to many of the same allogenic forces that shape delta geomorphology. This study examines the factors that influence plant community development, productivity, and species distributions in the Wax Lake delta, a young, actively pro-grading river delta in coastal Louisiana, USA. A species distribution map created using high-resolution 8-band WorldView-2 imagery was found to have an overall accuracy of 75 percent. Classification tree analysis suggested that most of the observed variation in plant species distributions within the delta can be explained by variables related to flooding, riverine and tidal flushing, soil development, ecological succession, and exposure. This full model explained 65 percent of the spatial variability, compared to 54 percent explained by elevation alone, indicating that elevation is the most important driver of species distributions in this deltaic system. Analysis of a time series of NDVI data derived from 94 Landsat images from 1973 to 2011 suggests that both total and mean plant community productivity within the delta has increased over time and that seasonal fluctuations occur that are related to water temperature and discharge. While significant short-term decreases in NDVI were found following five major storm events, in each case, total and mean NDVI recovered to within the 95 percent prediction interval of the long-term trend by the following growing season. Following the historic 2011 Mississippi River flood, the area of the delta increased by nearly 5 km2. Greater increases in delta area occurred at higher water levels, suggesting substantial vertical accretion across much of the subaerial delta. The plant community responded to this vertical accretion by shifting to higher elevation species across nearly 9 km2 of the delta. Overall, these results indicate that the plant community in the Wax Lake delta is largely driven by allogenic factors related to delta geomorphology and is increasing in productivity as the delta continues to accrete over time. The marshes in the delta show great resilience to storm disturbance, and a strong response to allogenic succession driven by extreme flood events.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Sasser, Charles E.