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From 2015 to 2017, Georgetown County, South Carolina, experienced threats to life, ecosystems, infrastructure, housing, schools, and businesses due to a thousand-year rainfall event, Hurricane Matthew, and repeated flooding episodes. The increased frequency and severity of these rainfall events mirrors climate scientists’ projections for the region as climate change intensifies. Like many small counties in the United States, Georgetown County is challenged by financial limitations and burgeoning infrastructure needs, creating a difficult decision-making environment for considering climate adaptation and mitigation planning.
The return of large harmful algal blooms to Lake Erie, as well as low oxygen levels (hypoxia) in lake bottom waters, have led to an intensified effort to understand, predict, and reduce nutrient loading to the lake. Coastal wetland restoration has been identified as a management tool for achieving an international goal of 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading to Lake Erie. For example, wetland restoration is central to nutrient reduction plans for Sandusky Bay, Ohio. However, the capacity of different coastal wetlands to retain nutrients and improve water quality is not well understood.
Nature-based shoreline stabilization and restoration techniques have the potential to maintain and enhance important ecological services and coastal resilience, while at the same time being cost-competitive with traditional approaches. Since 2009, the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve has engaged in scientific research, implementation, and promotion of sustainable shorelines in the Hudson River Estuary via the Hudson River Sustainable Shorelines Project.
Tidal marshes provide key ecosystem services—and they are increasingly threatened by sea level rise. Narragansett Bay and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserves recently led the first national assessment of tidal marsh resilience to sea level rise by developing and applying multi-metric indices to 16 reserve sites. Now the group is moving beyond marsh resilience monitoring and assessment efforts to actively test strategies to enhance resilience.
For coastal communities, such as those on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, water quality and the overall health of coastal systems has been deteriorating due to nitrogen pollution, which can come from septic systems, fertilizers, and atmospheric deposition. Excess nitrogen leads to negative ecological and economic impacts on communities and coastal areas, including algal blooms, fish kills, and shellfish and beach closures. Towns along Cape Cod are under pressure to improve coastal water quality, but many approaches are very costly, such as developing centralized sewer treatment infrastructure for homes that currently have septic systems.
Biological monitoring programs are essential foundations for effective management of estuaries and coasts, but they can be expensive to conduct and may be traumatic for the target species. Advancements in DNA methods now make it possible to identify the organisms in an area by the DNA they leave behind. Environmental DNA (eDNA) comes from feces, gametes, scales, and cells that an organism sheds, and is easily collected from water and sediment samples. Rapid reductions in analytical costs now allow scientists to analyze eDNA in water samples and identify dozens of species without having to capture live animals or plants.
This project will work collaboratively with resource managers in Oregon, Maine, and New Hampshire to pilot and refine DNA-based monitoring protocols that can be applied to specific issues and species of interest in estuarine ecosystems.
The Kenai Lowlands cover 9,400 square kilometers, with much of the area comprised of wetlands and over half of the landscape characterized as peatlands. These wetlands sequester large stores of carbon, preventing the carbon from entering the atmosphere. In 2016, at the request of the Kachemak Bay Community Council, a group of municipalities, government agencies, and local nonprofits, the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve partnered with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to conduct pilot tests of saltmarsh carbon sequestration. The results spurred interest in blue carbon valuation throughout the region.
In 2016, the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve hosted a workshop series to develop strategies for coping with coastal climate change on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. The workshops were the result of a Science Collaborative Science Transfer grant, as well as involvement in the Successful Adaptation Indicators and Metrics Science Collaborative project.
Coastal managers are faced with the challenge of managing marsh hydrology in a way that meets human health needs, optimizes ecosystem services, and supports sustainability. In New England this includes accounting for the effects of ditches that were dug decades ago in 90% of the region’s salt marshes.
Human activities create threats that have consequences for freshwater ecosystems and, in most watersheds, observed ecological responses are the result of complex interactions among multiple threats and their associated ecological alterations. Here we discuss the value of considering multiple threats in research and management, offer suggestions for filling knowledge gaps, and provide guidance for addressing the urgent management challenges posed by multiple threats in freshwater ecosystems.
Authors: Laura Craig, Julian Olden, Angela Arthington, Sally Entrekin, Charles Hawkins, John Kelly, Theodore Kennedy, Bryan Maitland, Emma Rosi, Allison Roy, David Strayer, Jennifer Tank, Amie West and Matthew Wooten