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Simulated estuary-wide response of seagrass (Zostera marina) to future scenarios of temperature and sea level

October 21, 2020

Seagrass communities are a vital component of estuarine ecosystems, but are threatened by projected sea level rise (SLR) and temperature increases with climate change. To understand these potential effects, we developed a spatially explicit model that represents seagrass (Zostera marina) habitat and estuary-wide productivity for Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor (BB-LEH) in New Jersey, United States. Our modeling approach included an offline coupling of a numerical seagrass biomass model with the spatially variable environmental conditions from a hydrodynamic model to calculate above and belowground biomass at each grid cell of the hydrodynamic model domain. Once calibrated to represent present day seagrass habitat and estuary-wide annual productivity, we applied combinations of increasing air temperature and sea level following regionally specific climate change projections, enabling analysis of the individual and combined impacts of these variables on seagrass biomass and spatial coverage. Under the SLR scenarios, the current model domain boundaries were maintained, as the land surrounding BB-LEH is unlikely to shift significantly in the future. SLR caused habitat extent to decrease dramatically, pushing seagrass beds toward the coastline with increasing depth, with a 100% loss of habitat by the maximum SLR scenario. The dramatic loss of seagrass habitat under SLR was in part due to the assumption that surrounding land would not be inundated, as the model did not allow for habitat expansion outside the current boundaries of the bay. Temperature increases slightly elevated the rate of summer die-off and decreased habitat area only under the highest temperature increase scenarios. In combined scenarios, the effects of SLR far outweighed the effects of temperature increase. Sensitivity analysis of the model revealed the greatest sensitivity to changes in parameters affecting light limitation and seagrass mortality, but no sensitivity to changes in nutrient limitation constants. The high vulnerability of seagrass in the bay to SLR exceeded that demonstrated for other systems, highlighting the importance of site- and region-specific assessments of estuaries under climate change.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Simulated estuary-wide response of seagrass (Zostera marina) to future scenarios of temperature and sea level
DOI 10.3389/fmars.2020.539946
Authors Cara Scalpone, Jessie Jarvis, James Vasslides, Jeremy Testa, Neil Kamal Ganju
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Marine Science
Index ID 70215548
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center