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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • ecosystem services;
  • coastal geomorphology;
  • breaching;
  • secondary productivity;
  • ecosystem modelling

Abstract

Estuarine ecosystems are highly sensitive not only to projected effects of climate change such as ocean warming, acidification, and sea-level rise but also to the incidence of nor'easter storms and hurricanes. The effects of storms and hurricanes can be extreme, with immediate impact on coastal geomorphology and water circulation, which is integral to estuarine function and consequently to provision of ecosystem services. In this article, we present the results of a natural estuarine-scale experiment on the effects of changes in coastal geomorphology on hydrodynamics and aquaculture production. A bay in Prince Edward Island, Canada, was altered when a nor'easter storm eroded a second tidal inlet through a barrier island. Previous field and modeling studies allowed a comparison of prestorm and post-storm circulation, food limitation by cultured mussels, and aquaculture harvest. Dramatic increases in mussel production occurred in the year following the opening of the new inlet. Model studies showed that post-storm circulation reduced food limitation for cultured mussels, allowing greater growth. Climate change is expected to have severe effects on the delivery of marine ecosystem services to human populations by changing the underlying physical-biological coupling inherent to their functioning.