Squeezed from all sides: Coastal riparian forests meet rising seas, invasive species, and urbanization

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Lea R. Johnson, Tara L.E. Trammell, Tracie Bishop, Joshua Barth , Scott Drzyzga and Claire Jantz

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Streamside forests of urbanizing coastal regions lie at the nexus of global changes that have the potential to reduce their important protective buffering functions for water quality: rising sea levels, increasing storm surge, expanding urbanization, and invasive species. To understand how these combined stressors affect forest condition, we identified forest patches adjacent to urban land, analyzed adjacent land cover, modeled forest inundation, and sampled 100 sites across the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay watersheds. We found that the majority of forest patches in the region are adjacent to medium- or high-density urban land. Projected flooding will affect 8 to 19% of all forested land in the study area. We observed non-native non-native invasive plants in 94% of forest plots. Trees were predominantly native, but over half of shrub stems were invasive species. More than 80% of plots contained invasive woody vines; in two thirds of plots vines covered a quarter or more of tree canopies. Most observed disturbance was of human origin, and the number of human-caused disturbance types in a plot was correlated with abundance of invasive trees. Signs of deer activity were also common. Richness and growth forms of invasive plants were related to adjacent agricultural land cover. These data reveal that forests of two large and productive estuarine bays are impacted by interacting stressors and emphasize the importance of protection and restoration of forests in urban regions. Ecological restoration of riparian forests in urbanizing coastal regions will benefit from a social-ecological systems approach.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program