New Report Assesses the Impacts of Emerging Threats on Gulf Coast Species and Ecosystems

WMI Landscapes

New Report Assesses the Impacts of Emerging Threats on Gulf Coast Species and Ecosystems


Climate change, sea level rise, and land use change are expected to have large impacts on natural resources ? particularly along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Released on November 13, the Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment (GCVA) is a comprehensive report evaluating the effects of climate change, sea level rise, and urbanization on four Gulf Coast ecosystems (mangrove, oyster reef, tidal emergent marsh and barrier islands) and 11 species (roseate spoonbill, blue crab, clapper rail, mottled duck, spotted seatrout, eastern oyster, American oystercatcher, red drum, black skimmer, Kemp's ridley sea turtle and Wilson's plover) that depend on them.

Of the species studied in the Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment, Kemp's ridley sea turtle is thought to be the most vulnerable species across the Gulf Coast. Experts identified its main threat as loss of nesting habitat to sea level rise, erosion, and urbanization. Tidal emergent marsh is considered to be the most vulnerable ecosystem, due in part to sea level rise and erosion. In general, avian species were more vulnerable than fish because of nesting habitat loss to sea level rise, erosion and potential increases in storm surges.

"The Gulf Coast region supports some of the most diverse species and ecosystems in the world," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "It also faces some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. The Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment will help our agency identify and assess areas that are susceptible to climate change and other stressors while working with our partners to protect and conserve this ecological safe haven for generations to come."

The GCVA was initiated by the four Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) that cover the Gulf of Mexico: the Gulf Coast Prairie, Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks, South Atlantic, and Peninsular Florida LCCs. Each LCC is directed by a Steering Committee of partners that also provided support for this project.

Additional support and guidance was provided through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Northern Gulf Institute (NGI), the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA), the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

"In the next 100 years, accelerated sea level rise, changing winter climate extremes, altered river flows and coastal development will greatly change coastal landscapes across the Gulf region," said USGS Research Ecologist Mike Osland. "In parallel to the GCVA, the USGS has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the four Gulf Coast LCCs to identify barriers and opportunities for the landward migration of tidal saline wetlands along the U.S. Gulf coast. These studies can assist in increasing the adaptive capacity of our coastal wetlands to help ensure that future generations have access to the many goods and services provided by these important coastal ecosystems."

The GCVA will guide future conservation and restoration efforts by helping conservation partners across the Gulf identify vulnerable areas where they can focus critical resources. In addition, the document pinpoints additional research needed to better anticipate impacts to coastal ecosystems and species along the northern Gulf of Mexico. 

Learn  more about the GCVA and the Landscape Conservation Cooperative Network

The Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is providing support to the Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) network. This section of the Outdoor News Bulletin provides readers with regular updates on LCC efforts involving WMI. This month's Landscapes article was written by Laura MacLean with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Science Applications Program.

November 16, 2015