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Losing coastal plant communities to climate change will weaken sea defences - University of Plymouth

The research was led by the University of Plymouth and is published in a special edition of the journal Annals of Botany

Coastal plant communities are a crucial element of global sea defences but are increasingly threatened by the human-induced effects of climate change, according to new research.

Rising sea levels and the increased frequency and intensity of extreme storm events are having a visible, global impact on beaches, cliff faces and coastal infrastructure.

But a new report suggests their impact on coastal plants, an integral part of shoreline defences, needs to be placed in greater focus.

The research was led by the University of Plymouth, in conjunction with scientists at Utrecht University and Manchester Metropolitan University, and is published in a special edition of the journal Annals of Botany.

It follows a recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2019), which asserted that anthropogenically-driven climate change poses a severe environmental threat to estuarine and coastal ecosystems.

This report not only reviews how the flood and erosion threats posed by a combination of sea level rise and storms can affect coastal sub-, inter- and supra-tidal plant communities, but also highlights the contribution that habitats like saltmarshes, mangrove forests, sand dunes and kelp beds make to coastal protection.

As well as highlighting that the threats posed by extreme weather to coastal plant communities are undoubtedly severe, the study calls for biologists and ecologists to work alongside coastal scientists, environment agencies and land managers to identify the key species and habitats for coastal defence and how they can be both promoted and protected in the future.

Central to that objective, the authors argue, is the need to develop and combine long-term monitoring with flood risk models to better predict where and how storms and other climate change-driven phenomenon influence coastal ecosystems and services.

The full study – The gathering storm: optimizing management of coastal ecosystems in the face of a climate-driven threat by Hanley et al – is published in a special edition of Annals of Botany, doi: 10.1093/aob/mcz204.