Coastal Wetland Ecosystem Responses to Climate Change: the Role of Macroclimatic Drivers along the Northern Gulf of Mexico
Monday, 15 December 2014
Across the globe, macroclimatic drivers greatly influence coastal wetland ecosystem structure and function. However, changing macroclimatic conditions are rarely incorporated into coastal wetland vulnerability assessments. Here, we quantify the influence of macroclimatic drivers upon coastal wetland ecosystems along the Northern Gulf of Mexico (NGOM) coast. From a global perspective, the NGOM coast provides several excellent opportunities to examine the effects of climate change upon coastal wetlands. The abundant coastal wetland ecosystems in the region span two major climatic gradients: (1) a winter temperature gradient that crosses temperate to tropical climatic zones; and (2) a precipitation gradient that crosses humid to semi-arid zones. We present analyses where we used geospatial data (historical climate, hydrology, and coastal wetland coverage) and field data (soil, elevation, and plant community composition and structure) to quantify climate-mediated ecological transitions. We identified winter climate and precipitation-based thresholds that separate mangrove forests from salt marshes and vegetated wetlands from unvegetated wetlands, respectively. We used simple distribution and abundance models to evaluate the potential ecological effects of alternative future climate change scenarios. Our results illustrate and quantify the importance of macroclimatic drivers and indicate that climate change could result in landscape-scale changes in coastal wetland ecosystem structure and function. These macroclimate-mediated ecological changes could affect the supply of some ecosystem goods and services as well as the resilience of these ecosystems to stressors, including accelerated sea level rise. Collectively, our findings highlight the importance of incorporating macroclimatic drivers within future-focused coastal wetland vulnerability assessments.