Tidal marsh susceptibility to sea-level rise: importance of local-scale models

Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management
By: , and 



Increasing concern over sea-level rise impacts to coastal tidal marsh ecosystems has led to modeling efforts to anticipate outcomes for resource management decision making. Few studies on the Pacific coast of North America have modeled sea-level rise marsh susceptibility at a scale relevant to local wildlife populations and plant communities. Here, we use a novel approach in developing an empirical sea-level rise ecological response model that can be applied to key management questions. Calculated elevation change over 13 y for a 324-ha portion of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, California, USA, was used to represent local accretion and subsidence processes. Next, we coupled detailed plant community and elevation surveys with measured rates of inundation frequency to model marsh state changes to 2100. By grouping plant communities into low, mid, and high marsh habitats, we were able to assess wildlife species vulnerability and to better understand outcomes for habitat resiliency. Starting study-site conditions were comprised of 78% (253-ha) high marsh, 7% (30-ha) mid marsh, and 4% (18-ha) low marsh habitats, dominated by pickleweed Sarcocornia pacifica and cordgrass Spartina spp. Only under the low sea-level rise scenario (44 cm by 2100) did our models show persistence of some marsh habitats to 2100, with the area dominated by low marsh habitats. Under mid (93 cm by 2100) and high sea-level rise scenarios (166 cm by 2100), most mid and high marsh habitat was lost by 2070, with only 15% (65 ha) remaining, and a complete loss of these habitats by 2080. Low marsh habitat increased temporarily under all three sea-level rise scenarios, with the peak (286 ha) in 2070, adding habitat for the endemic endangered California Ridgway’s rail Rallus obsoletus obsoletus. Under mid and high sea-level rise scenarios, an almost complete conversion to mudflat occurred, with most of the area below mean sea level. Our modeling assumed no marsh migration upslope due to human levee and infrastructure preventing these types of processes. Other modeling efforts done for this area have projected marsh persistence to 2100, but our modeling effort with site-specific datasets allowed us to model at a finer resolution with much higher local confidence, resulting in different results for management. Our results suggest that projected sea-level rise will have significant impacts on marsh plant communities and obligate wildlife, including those already under federal and state protection. Comprehensive modeling as done here improves the potential to implement adaptive management strategies and prevent marsh habitat and wildlife loss in the future.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Tidal marsh susceptibility to sea-level rise: importance of local-scale models
Series title Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management
DOI 10.3996/062014-JFWM-048
Volume 3
Issue 2
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Publisher location Washington D.C.
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 15 p.
First page 290
Last page 304
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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