Coastal wetlands, existing at the interface between land and sea, are highly vulnerable to climate change. Macroclimate (for example, temperature and precipitation regimes) greatly influences coastal wetland ecosystem structure and function. However, research on climate change impacts in coastal wetlands has concentrated primarily on sea-level rise and largely ignored macroclimatic drivers, despite their power to transform plant community structure and modify ecosystem goods and services. Here, we model wetland plant community structure based on macroclimate using field data collected across broad temperature and precipitation gradients along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast. Our analyses quantify strongly nonlinear temperature thresholds regulating the potential for marsh-to-mangrove conversion. We also identify precipitation thresholds for dominance by various functional groups, including succulent plants and unvegetated mudflats. Macroclimate-driven shifts in foundation plant species abundance will have large effects on certain ecosystem goods and services. Based on current and projected climatic conditions, we project that transformative ecological changes are probable throughout the region this century, even under conservative climate scenarios. Coastal wetland ecosystems are functionally similar worldwide, so changes in this region are indicative of potential future changes in climatically similar regions globally.
Additional publication details
Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century