Establishing a Foundation for Evaluating the Ecological Implications of Climate Change along a Gradient in Macroclimatic Drivers of Coastal Wetland Ecosystems

Michael Osland
Posted on: 7/18/2022 - Updated on: 8/08/2023

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The northern Gulf of Mexico coast spans a dramatic water availability gradient (precipitation range: 700 to 1800 mm/year) and represents an excellent natural laboratory for developing climate-influenced ecological models for natural resource managers and culture keepers.

In this project, we used this zone of remarkable transition to develop macroclimate-based models for quantifying the regional responses of coastal wetland ecosystems to climate variation. In addition to providing important fish and wildlife habitat and supporting coastal food webs, these coastal wetlands provide many ecosystem goods and services including clean water, stable coastlines, food, recreational opportunities, and stored carbon.

Our objective was to examine and forecast the effects of macroclimatic drivers on wetland ecosystem structure and function in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Our first major step in meeting this overall objective was to develop a quantitative understanding of the connections between climate and ecosystem structure. We then incorporated the resulting information into quantitative vulnerability assessments that examine sensitivity (via observed data), exposure (via alternative future climate scenarios), and adaptive capacity (via life history literature). In the process, we identified regional climate-ecological thresholds for coastal wetland ecosystems. Our study focused on coastal wetland variations across relatively dramatic precipitation and temperature gradients in the northern Gulf of Mexico and included study areas in TX, LA, MS, AL, and FL.

The project provided valuable experience and opportunities for five early-career researchers (one post-doctoral fellow, two current or recent undergraduate students, and two early-career research scientists). 

Affiliated Organizations

Established in 2012, the South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center provides decision makers with the science, tools, and information they need to address the impacts of climate variability and change on their areas of responsibility. The Center will transform how climate science is conducted and applied in the south-central United States. We support big thinking, including multi-institutional and stakeholder-driven approaches to assessing the impact of climate extremes on natural and cultural resources.

The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.


Adaptation Phase
Sector Addressed
Habitat/Biome Type
Target Climate Changes and Impacts