Coastal wetlands along the northern Gulf of Mexico are diverse. Salt marshes, mangrove forests, and salt flats are all different kinds of tidal saline wetland ecosystems that can be found in the region. In addition to supporting fish and wildlife, these coastal wetlands protect coastal communities, provide seafood, improve water quality, store carbon, and provide recreational opportunities.
Coastal ecologists have long known that temperature and rainfall regimes control the distribution and dominance of these different ecosystems. However, constraints in data quality and access have limited efforts to characterize the influence of climate on the region’s coastal wetlands. Below, I’ve included a link to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change where we used data from 10 estuaries in five states (TX, LA, MS, AL, and FL) to quantify these linkages and evaluate the implications of alternative future climate scenarios.
The results identify thresholds for mangrove forests, salt marshes, and salt flats. Within the region, small changes in temperature and/or rainfall can lead to large changes in ecosystem structure and function. For example, small changes in winter air temperature regimes (i.e., freeze events) can lead to mangrove expansion at the expense of salt marsh. And, in drier areas (south Texas), small changes in rainfall can alter salinity regimes and lead to the expansion or contraction of salt flats. Ecologists refer to these changes as ecological regime shifts. In coastal wetlands, such regime shifts can result in the gain and/or loss of certain ecosystem goods and services.
Citation: Gabler, C. A., M. J. Osland, J. B. Grace, C. L. Stagg, R. H. Day, S. B. Hartley, N. M. Enwright, A. S. From, M. L. McCoy, and J. L. McLeod. 2017. Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century. Nature Climate Change.
Up next: Read about a GCPO LCC-sponsored coastal resilience initiative along the Gulf Coast