NRESS Environmental Sciences Seminar Series

Wednesday, September 18, 2019
2:30 PM - 3:30 PM
James Hall, G46
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Lynne Cooper
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Chris Elphick
Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut

Canaries in the Salt Marsh: Coastal Marsh Conservation as Sea Levels Rise

Eastern North America has more specialized saltmarsh breeding birds than anywhere else in the world. In recent years, much research has focused on the status of these species and the threats they face. In this talk Dr. Elphick will synthesize data – largely collected by the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program – on population sizes, trends, demographic changes, and population projections to examine the effects of chronic changes, especially sea-level rise, and examine resilience to disturbances such as hurricanes. Species vary in their vulnerability, with some facing a high extinction risk by mid-century, while others are more   secure. Habitats are changing, with a shift to lower elevation, wetter marshes. Reproductive failure due to nest flooding appears to drive current demographic changes, but nest predation is also important in more southern marshes. Over the longer term, all species that use this habitat face potential declines due to habitat loss, although there is considerable uncertainty over the extent of future habitat changes or the magnitude of those declines. Ongoing species protection involves a three-pronged strategy. First, researchers have identified marshes with a high chance of maintaining high elevation habitat over the long term, which should be targeted for    immediate protection. Second, they are investigating medium-term management actions that limit extreme flooding that causes reproductive failure or that help maintain marsh elevation. Finally, researchers are exploring longer-term solutions that will facilitate marsh migration into upland areas or that increase sediment flow to estuaries. Given uncertainty over the effectiveness of these interventions, Dr. Elphick’s group has developed a common framework to collect and evaluate evidence for their efficacy.

Chris Elphick, UCONN
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