Keeping Pace with Climate Change: Habitat Protection in the Face of Uncertainty

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 9:30 AM
Rebecca L Flitcroft, PNW Research Station, Seattle, WA, United States, Kelly Burnett, PNW Research Station, Corvallis, United States and Guillermo Giannico, Oregon State University, Corvallis, United States
Estuaries provide critical habitat for many economically and culturally important species. In the Pacific Northwest, intertidal and subtidal areas provide critical habitat for production of native and commercial oysters (Olympia oyster Ostrea lurida and Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas, respectively) that in turn provide refuge and rearing habitat for Dungeness Crab, Metacarcinus magister. Environments ranging from subtidal through freshwater zones provide nursery areas for juvenile salmonids at different development stages in their life history. Most Oregon estuaries have been significantly altered by humans over the past century, reducing the quantity and diversity of available habitats. Management agencies have responded with projects to restore and enhance estuarine habitats. Unfortunately, future climate change and sea-level rise could render many current restoration projects ineffective over time. Planning for habitat restoration that keeps pace with climate change will be critical to the sustainable production of seafood and maintenance of ecosystem function. However, land managers and citizens lack the spatially-explicit data needed to incorporate the potential effects of climate change and sea-level rise into planning for habitat improvement projects in estuarine areas. To meet this need, we developed simple models using LiDAR to characterize the geomorphologies of multiple Oregon estuaries. We were able to map the margin of current mean high tide, and contour intervals associated with different potential increases in mean high tide. Because our analysis relied on digital data, we compared three types of digital data in one estuary to assess the utility of different data sets in predicting changes in estuary shape. For each estuary, we assessed changes in the amount and complexity of edge habitats. The simple modeling approach we applied can also be used to identify areas that may be most amenable to pre-emptive restoration actions to mitigate or enhance habitats under future climatic conditions.