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Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century

Nature Climate Change

By:
, , , , , , , , , and
DOI:10.1038/nclimate3203

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Abstract

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

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Macroclimatic change expected to transform coastal wetland ecosystems this century
Series title:
Nature Climate Change
DOI:
10.1038/nclimate3203
Volume:
7
Year Published:
2017
Language:
English
Publisher:
Nature Publishing Group
Contributing office(s):
Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description:
6 p.
First page:
142
Last page:
147