UF Scientist Seeks Super Sea Oats

GAINESVILLE--Gulf Coast sea oats are genetically different from sea oats on the Atlantic Coast, a University of Florida researcher has found.

The differences, says Michael Kane, may be the key to preserving Florida's dune system -- and keeping coastal residents safe -- in the face of tropical storms and hurricanes.

"Now that we know there are genetic differences, we need to determine what these differences mean, if anything, in terms of the ability of sea oats to survive and stabilize dunes. Eventually, we hope to select and propagate sea oats for the qualities that make for the strongest, best sea oats -- the sea oats that can best do the job of stabilizing dunes during storms," said Kane, a researcher at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Kane started his project after several hurricanes and storms hit Florida in the early '90s. As demand for dune restoration increased, supplies of naturally grown sea oats dropped. Commercial nurseries who specialize in sea oats have state permission, under contract, to collect seed on dunes, but since the dunes were damaged, sources for seed and seedlings became severely tapped.

Kane thought he could propagate sea oats in a laboratory, but the question then became, which sea oats? Could Atlantic Coast sea oats be used to restore Gulf Coast dunes? Could sea oats from the lower Gulf Coast be transplanted, without harm, to the Panhandle?

"There was some question about whether it would be advisable to transplant sea oats between distant geographic locations, such as using Atlantic Coast sea oats to replenish Gulf Coast dunes damaged by hurricanes," Kane said.

"There was some concern that there might be genetic mismatches among the populations. So we needed, first, to determine whether there were genetic differences within and between populations of sea oats."

Kane found that not only are there differences between sea oats coast to coast, but also differences between northern Gulf Coast s

Contact: Cindy Spence
University of Florida

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