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Climate change is dialing up the pressure on species around the world. Polar bears may be the most iconic example, but creatures from corals to elephants are all affected by a warming, changing planet.
Individual species aren't the only ones at risk of extinction. In the case of Pacific coastal wetlands, an entire ecosystem type could be wiped out by a rise in the sea level, according to UCLA and U.S. Geological Survey research published today.
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"The bottom line is, especially in California, most of the salt marsh is going to go away by 2100," said Richard Ambrose, a UCLA professor of environmental health and co-author of the paper. "Some will go away by 2050."
Ambrose and his fellow researchers conducted a comprehensive evaluation of 14 estuaries along the Pacific coast of the United States, taking measurements at each location to determine the unique properties of the individual sites. Then, using established predictions, the researchers modeled how each place would respond under three scenarios—low, medium and high sea level rise. Under the low scenario, loss is minimal. With the high scenario, loss of coastal wetlands is almost total, particularly in California.
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However, recent research shows even the high extreme sea level rise predictions may be conservative, Ambrose said. And there is plenty of uncertainty—no one knows exactly how much the oceans will rise by the end of the century.
Glen MacDonald, a UCLA distinguished professor of geography and another co-author of the paper, said loss of the wetlands would affect other ecosystems as well.
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"We could see an ecological cascading effect" that affects breeding and food systems for fish, birds and other organisms, MacDonald said. "If you erase an entire system, the effects are going to ripple upward to predators and downward to prey species. It is just startling."
Coastal marshes are able to adapt to sea...
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