A team of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have synthesized existing information on ecological thresholds related to environmental changes for 45 species of coastal fish, wildlife, and plants. The selected species are ecologically, economically, and culturally important. Published in Ocean & Coastal Management, the new paper “A synthesis of thresholds for focal species along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts” offers insights on strategies for managing coastal resources to help managers make effective decisions today to protect natural systems that sustain wildlife and the health and well-being of people and communities.

Salt marshes, mangrove forests, and barrier beaches are home to a diversity of wildlife species, and when these coastal ecosystems are intact and functional, they benefit communities as well as wildlife. They provide communities with a host of economic, recreational and cultural benefits including protection from storm surge, a means to sequestrate carbon, and nursery areas for commercially important groundfish. For example, the Eastern oyster is a cornerstone of a lucrative shellfish industry, filters water as it feeds, and helps stabilize the shoreline by creating reefs.

Some species also play an instructive role as indicators of environmental changes that can threaten coastal systems on which people and wildlife depend. These indicator species may experience “ecological thresholds,” the tipping points at which changing environmental conditions will lead to a disruption in a species life cycle or habitat. By looking at ecological thresholds for key species, we can better prepare for and respond to threats.

“By pairing quantitative thresholds for highly vulnerable species responses with sea-level rise projections and coastal landscape responses, managers can prioritize which species need immediate action and timelines to reach conservation goals,” explained co-author Michelle Staudinger, Science Coordinator for the Northeast Climate Science Center (CSC).

There are eight CSCs that provide decision-focused research, information products, and tools to inform landscape-scale conservation plans developed by Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs). Both entities are non-regulatory conservation partnerships that have been established to help respond to environmental stressors that transcend state lines and are beyond the organizational ability of any one agency.

The synthesis reflected in the new paper responds to a need identified by stakeholders from six LCCs, three CSCs, state wildlife agencies and other partners from across the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions. The was for information on thresholds that can help managers act strategically despite uncertain future conditions. This information is timely for helping coastal states implement updated state wildlife action plans, which identify species of greatest conservation need in each state and outline strategies for protecting them.

Read more and link to a copy of the report.