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A synthesis of thresholds for focal species along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts: A review of research and applications


Emily Powell

Megan Tyrrell

Andrew Milliken

John Tirpak

Michelle Staudinger

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Secondary Title:
Ocean & Coastal Management


The impacts from climate change are increasing the possibility of vulnerable coastal species and habitats crossing critical thresholds that could spur rapid and possibly irreversible changes. For species of high conservation concern, improved knowledge of quantitative thresholds could greatly improve management. To meet this need, we synthesized information pertaining to biological responses as tipping points to sea level rise (SLR) and coastal storms for 45 fish, wildlife, and plant species along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and Caribbean through a literature review and expert elicitation. Although these species were selected based on their ecological, economic, and cultural importance, just over half (56%, n = 25) have quantitative threshold data currently available that can be used to assess the effects of SLR and storms during some aspect of their life history. Birds, reptiles, and plants represent the best studied coastal species. Thirteen of the species (29%) are projected to lose at least 50% of their population or habitat (e.g., foraging, nesting, spawning, or resting habitat) in some areas with a 0.5 m or greater rise in sea levels by 2100. Two species (a bird and reptile) may gain habitat from projected SLR and be resilient to future impacts. Numeric thresholds were not available for the remaining 20 species we searched for. Coastal fishes, mammals, and amphibians were among the groups representing a major information gap in this field of research. In addition, quantitative threshold responses to coastal storms were scarce for all taxa. While vulnerability assessments and qualitative research related to the impacts of SLR and storms on coastal species and habitats are increasing, work that incorporates quantitative thresholds as response and impact metrics remains limited. Additional monitoring, modeling, and research that provides multiple quantitative thresholds across species' life stages and/or latitudinal gradients is ideal to support robust coastal management and decision-making across spatio-temporal scales in the face of climate change.