Sea-level rise and extreme weather events have become harsh realities for the people living on the shores of the world. The record-breaking hurricanes of the past decade in the United States have led to shattering tolls on coastal infrastructures and communities, which have led many local governments to consider the benefits of natural coastal barriers.
In a groundbreaking study titled "Warming Accelerates Mangrove Expansion and Surface Extraction in a Subtropical Wetland," a team of biologists at the University of Villanova has documented that coastal wetlands in the southeastern US respond positively to rising temperatures, both in their growth and in their growth their ability to build land to keep up with sea-level rise.
Published on August 29 in the British Ecological Society Journal of Ecology The results of the study are a ray of sunshine in predicting climate change. Research team members included Glenn A. Coldren, J. Adam Langley and Samantha Chapman of Villanova University of Biology, Villanova, PA and Ilka C. Feller of the Animal-Plant Interaction Laboratory at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater
Das The Villanova research team's two-year experiment, funded by NASA grants, was conducted at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) on Merritt Island. The KSC was an ideal location to conduct research at the crossroads of two wetlands, salt marshes and mangroves. The impact on KSC is grave as coastal wetlands and sand dunes protect NASA's $ 5.6 billion low-lying infrastructure against rising seas.
The large scale warming experiment was conducted in the MINWR using large passive heat chambers, swamp and mangrove ecosystem air temperatures. The Villanova researchers found that experimental warming doubled plant height and accelerated the swamp to mangrove transition.
Mangroves are woody trees with more complex roots than their grassy marsh plants. At similar temperatures as in a warmer future, mangrove areas have increased surface height, which is a measure of the wetland's ability to form soil and keep up with sea-level rise.
"Our Study Provides Some Evidence The continual rearrangement of species on the Earth's surface could allow them to adapt to the same global changes that cause them," says Chapman. "Maintaining and restoring our coastal wetlands can help people adapt to climate change."
Mangroves, with their unique structure and migration to higher latitudes due to climate change, can help coastal communities keep pace with sea-level rise and fight storms like hurricanes. Expanding these natural barriers in areas such as the Kennedy Space Center could improve the sustainability of coastal communities, as they face accelerated sea-level rise in a warmer future.
"The study combines the growth of individual plants, and especially their roots, into the survival of an entire ecosystem.The long-term strength of the mangrove effects we identify could determine what the maps of our southeastern coasts will look like in the future," says Langley. "This mangrove effect could benefit coastal wetlands around the world."
"Our experiment highlights the impact of several interacting aspects of climate change, such as warming and sea-level rise, on the impact of species invasions as a result of climate change and the ability of these communities to protect the coasts," concluded Coldren.
New research shows the protective value of mangroves for coastal areas
Journal of Ecology (2018). DOI: 10.1111 / 1365-2745.13049