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Climate Change and Adaptation: Ecosystem Modeling

Researchers require an understanding of how specific ecological mechanisms regulate their structure and function in order to develop ecosystem management plans for restoring and protecting natural resources. Coastal restoration and protection managers need decision-support tools that model wetland community dynamics and responses to both natural processes and anthropogenic practices.

USGS scientists develop conceptual ecological models to help understand the natural wetland environment and how human activities and natural events threaten these environments. Coastal landscape models use predictive relationships to estimate broad ecosystem responses to restoration and protection actions. The models enable more informed management decisions and are used to increase the efficacy of wetland restoration and protection activities in sustaining coastal resources.



Doyle, T.W., Krauss, K.W., Conner, W.H., and From, A.S., 2010, Predicting the retreat and migration of tidal forests along the northern Gulf of Mexico under sea-level rise: Forest Ecology and Management, v. 259, n. 4, p. 770-777,

Tidal freshwater forests in coastal regions of the southeastern United States are undergoing dieback and retreat from increasing tidal inundation and saltwater intrusion attributed to climate variability and sea-level rise. In many areas, tidal saltwater forests (mangroves) contrastingly are expanding landward in subtropical coastal reaches succeeding freshwater marsh and forest zones. Hydrological characteristics of these low-relief coastal forests in intertidal settings are dictated by the influence of tidal and freshwater forcing. In this paper, we describe the application of the Sea Level Over Proportional Elevation (SLOPE) model to predict coastal forest retreat and migration from projected sea-level rise based on a proxy relationship of saltmarsh/mangrove area and tidal range.


Burkett, V.R., Wilcox, D.A., Stottlemyer, R., Barrow, W., Fagre, D., Baron, J., Price, J., Nielsen, J.L., Allen, C.D., Peterson, D.L., Ruggerone, G., and Doyle, T., 2005, Nonlinear dynamics in ecosystem response to climatic change: Case studies and policy implications: Ecological Complexity, v. 2, n. 4, p. 357-394,

Many biological, hydrological, and geological processes are interactively linked in ecosystems. These ecological phenomena normally vary within bounded ranges, but rapid, nonlinear changes to markedly different conditions can be triggered by even small differences if threshold values are exceeded. Intrinsic and extrinsic ecological thresholds can lead to effects that cascade among systems, precluding accurate modeling and prediction of system response to climate change.


Doyle, T.W., Girod, G.F., and Books, M.A., 2003, Modeling mangrove forest migration along the southwest coast of Florida under climate change [Chap. 12], p. 211-222, IN, Ning, Z.H., Turner, R.E., Doyle, T.W., and Abdollahi, K.K., 2003, Integrated Assessment of the Climate Change Impacts on the Gulf Coast Region, GCRCC and LSU Graphic Services, 236 p.,

Mangrove forests dominate in the intertidal zones of the tropical extent of the coast about the Gulf of Mexico, USA. Global climate change forecasts suggest that these coastal forests will be among those ecosystems most immediately threatened by projected increases in sea level and hurricanes. The interactive effects of environmental conditions that prevail in these forests and the changes that are likely to occur in a global warming climate may lead to major shifts in forest composition, structure, and function of mangrove ecosystems.

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