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Natural Hazards: Ecosystem Modeling

In order to advance management plans for protecting natural resources, researchers must develop an understanding of how specific ecological mechanisms regulate their structure and function. Land managers need decision-support tools that model community dynamics and responses to both natural and anthropogenic stressors. USGS scientists develop conceptual models to increase their knowledge of the natural environment and discern how human activities and natural events affect these environments. Models use predictive relationships to estimate broad responses to actions and enable more informed management decisions.



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.


Doyle, T.W., 2009, Hurricane frequency and landfall distribution for coastal wetlands of the Gulf coast, USA: Wetlands, v. 29, n. 1, p. 35-43,

The regularity and severity of tropical storms are major determinants controlling ecosystem structure and succession for coastal ecosystems. Hurricane landfall rates vary greatly with high and low frequency for given coastal stretches of the southeastern United States. Site-specific meteorological data of hurricane wind speeds and direction, however, are only available for select populated cities of relatively sparse distribution and inland from the coast. A spatial simulation model of hurricane circulation, HURASIM, was applied to reconstruct chronologies of hurricane wind speeds and vectors for northern Gulf coast locations derived from historical tracking data of North Atlantic tropical storms dating back to 1851.


Doyle, T.W., Krauss, K.W., and Wells, C.J., 2009, Landscape analysis and pattern of hurricane impact and circulation on mangrove forests of the Everglades: Wetlands, v. 29, n. 1, p. 44-53,

The Everglades ecosystem contains the largest contiguous tract of mangrove forest outside the tropics that were also coincidentally intersected by a major Category 5 hurricane. Airborne videography was flown to capture the landscape pattern and process of forest damage in relation to storm trajectory and circulation. Two aerial video transects, representing different topographic positions, were used to quantify forest damage from video frame analysis in relation to prevailing wind force, treefall direction, and forest height. A hurricane simulation model was applied to reconstruct wind fields corresponding to the ground location of each video frame and to correlate observed treefall and destruction patterns with wind speed and direction.


Berger, U., Rivera-Monroy, V.H., Doyle, T.W., Dahdouh-Guebas, F., Duke, N.C., Fontalvo-Herazo, M.L., Hildenbrandt, H., Koedam, N., Mehlig, U., Piou, C., and Twilley, R.R., 2008, Advances and limitations of individual-based models to analyze and predict dynamics of mangrove forests: A review: Aquatic Botany, v. 89, n. 2, p. 260-274,

Mangrove ecosystems are considered vulnerable to climate change as coastal development limits the ecosystem services and adaptations important to their survival. Although they appear rather simple in terms of species diversity, their ecology is complex due to interacting geophysical forces of tides, surface runoff, river and groundwater discharge, waves, and constituents of sediment, nutrients and saltwater. These interactions limit developing a comprehensive framework for science-based sustainable management practices. A suite of models have been developed independently by various academic and government institutions worldwide to understand the dynamics of mangrove ecosystems and to provide ecological forecasting capabilities under different management scenarios and natural disturbance regimes.

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