The Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) is an extremely dynamic, heterogeneous coastal barrier landscape comprising mainland watersheds, tidal marshes, lagoons, and barrier islands. Our goal for the VCR LTER program is to develop a predictive understanding of the response of coastal barrier systems to long-term environmental changes in climate, sea level and land
use, and to relate these to the ecological services the coastal barrier systems provide. We focus on how slow progressive environmental changes interact with short-term disturbances such as storms and species invasions to control the dynamics and biotic structure in the coastal barrier landscape. Coastal barrier systems like the VCR are prominent features of shorelines on most continents and are important globally. Our work thus extends beyond the VCR; our understanding can both be applied broadly to coastal barrier systems and be compared to other types of land-margin ecosystems.
The VCR barrier island/lagoon system extends 110 km along the Atlantic shore of the Delmarva Peninsula. Sandy and dynamic barrier islands are backed by salt marshes and shallow lagoons and separated from one another by deep inlets.