June 19th, 2014: “Beyond just sea level rise: incorporating climate into coastal wetland vulnerability assessments” with Dr. Mike Osland, a research ecologist with the USGS/National Wetlands Research Center and Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCC
Along the Gulf of Mexico coast, climate greatly influences coastal wetland ecosystem structure and function. The coast spans two relatively dramatic and ecologically-relevant climate gradients: (1) a winter temperature gradient; and (2) a precipitation gradient. Ecologists have long noted that macroclimatic drivers regulate coastal wetland ecosystem types in the region (e.g., mangroves, salt marshes, tidal salt flats). However, quantitative climate-coastal wetland relationships have not been investigated at the regional scale. We used historical climate data (1970-2000), coastal wetland coverage data, and alternative future climate scenarios to develop distribution and abundance models for the region. We identified winter climate-based thresholds that separate mangrove forests from salt marshes. We also identified precipitation-based thresholds that separate vegetated wetlands from non-vegetated wetlands. Our results highlight the importance of incorporating climatic drivers (i.e., temperature and precipitation) into coastal wetland vulnerability assessments along the Gulf of Mexico.
The long-term benefits of coastal restoration and protection will be greatly influenced by future changing conditions. Resource managers are often asked the following two questions: (1) How will climate change affect coastal wetlands and their ability to support fish and wildlife habitat and other important ecosystem goods and services?; and (2) How can we improve efforts to sustain the natural and cultural resources provided by coastal wetlands for current and future generations? Incorporating climatic drivers (i.e., temperature and freshwater availability) into coastal wetland vulnerability assessments will help coastal wetland scientists and resource managers better address these questions and plan their restoration and protection efforts accordingly.
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