Coastal forests and groundwater: Using case studies to understand the effects of drivers and stressors for resource management
Forests are receiving more attention for the ecosystem goods and services they provide and the potential change agents that may affect forest health and productivity. Highlighting case examples from coastal forests in South Carolina, USA, we describe groundwater processes with respect to stressors and potential responses of a wetland-rich forested landscape, the roles that this area has served, and the need for water resource data to inform forest management decisions. Forested lands in the southeastern U.S. coastal plain provide a rich set of goods and services for the region, and in one case, the Francis Marion National Forest acts as a buffer to urbanization from the surrounding Charleston metropolitan area. Information from two decades of studies in the forested watersheds there may inform scientists and managers in other coastal forested systems. The common hydrological theme in this region, which has a higher average annual rainfall (1370 mm) than the annual potential evapotranspiration (PET = 1135 mm), is a shallow (<3 m) water table condition that supports a large range of natural wetlands and also creates management challenges across the region. Modest changes in the position of the water table can lead to either groundwater flooding and concomitant management challenges for forest services, or ecosystem stresses related to dry conditions in wetlands during times of below-normal precipitation or due to groundwater withdrawal. Development pressures have also stressed forest resources through the extraction of materials such as timber and sand mining, and the conversion to housing construction materials. These areas are also targeted for land development, to meet housing demands. In this paper, we discuss the role of groundwater in coastal forests and highlight opportunities for collaborative studies to better inform forest resource management.