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Critical thresholds and ecosystem services for coastal ecological and human climate adaptation


A large portion of the U.S. population lives in coastal areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and the Caribbean; however, our coasts are also home to many fish, wildlife, and plant species that are important for recreation, tourism, local economies, biodiversity, and healthy coastal ecosystems. Coastal habitats also provide protective ecosystem services to human communities, which are increasingly at risk to storms and sea level rise under future climate change. Understanding how climate change will impact natural and human communities is a crucial part of decision making and management related to the protection of our coasts.

In a collaborative project between the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NA LCC) and the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, researchers compiled existing threshold information on priority coastal fish, wildlife, and plant species as well as coastal habitats along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and Caribbean in response to sea level rise and storm projections. As the effects of climate change on ecological and human communities grow, the possibility of crossing tipping points or thresholds of viability increases the potential for rapid and possibly irreversible changes in ecosystems. Therefore, understanding thresholds related to climate change is critical for facilitating conservation and management actions, which could help to prevent more costly and possibly catastrophic effects in the near (years to decades) and distant (decades to centuries) future. The compilation of this information will help to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how natural systems will respond to climate change and how land and resource management decisions could potentially help these species.  

Researchers further compiled natural and nature-based approaches to restoration and management that benefit both natural and human communities in the coastal zone, as well as synthesized information on the suite of ecosystem services provided by tidal marshes, beaches and barrier islands, mangroves, and shellfish beds. This work will inform climate change adaptation and resilience planning and assist coastal communities that must weigh important tradeoffs regarding the benefits and drawbacks of green and grey coastal infrastructure.

Results from these synthesis activities have been presented in several formats, including easily accessible topic-specific web pages in the online Massachusetts Wildlife Climate Action Tool.


Highlights from this project have been featured in a poster presentation on the MA Wildlife Climate Action Tool at the Southern New England Chapter Meeting of the American Fisheries Society (spring 2017); NE CSC Regional Science Meeting (spring 2017), and the 2017 National AFS meeting (Summer 2017)
E. Powell, NE CASC Fellows meeting, April 19th, 2017.
E. Powell, 'A Community of Ecosystem Services' (ACES) on Dec. 8th, 2016.
D. Beard (NCCWSC) presented this work as part of presentation on CASC network work in the coastal zone at the 2016 IUCN conference.
M. Staudinger highlighted this project and forthcoming products in a presentation to NEAFWA SWAP coordinators and in a document synthesizing NE CASC coastal projects which has been circulated to the LCCs and other partners.