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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • coastal ecosystems;
  • multiple stressors;
  • remote sensing;
  • sea level rise;
  • spatial modelling;
  • species distribution;
  • wave model

Abstract

The distribution and abundance of seagrass ecosystems could change significantly over the coming century due to sea level rise (SLR). Coastal managers require mechanistic understanding of the processes affecting seagrass response to SLR to maximize their conservation and associated provision of ecosystem services. In Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia, vast seagrass meadows supporting populations of sea turtles and dugongs are juxtaposed with the multiple stressors associated with a large and rapidly expanding human population. Here, the interactive effects of predicted SLR, changes in water clarity, and land use on future distributions of seagrass in Moreton Bay were quantified. A habitat distribution model of present day seagrass in relation to benthic irradiance and wave height was developed which correctly classified habitats in 83% of cases. Spatial predictions of seagrass and presence derived from the model and bathymetric data were used to initiate a SLR inundation model. Bathymetry was iteratively modified based on SLR and sedimentary accretion in seagrass to simulate potential seagrass habitat at 10 year time steps until 2100. The area of seagrass habitat was predicted to decline by 17% by 2100 under a scenario of SLR of 1.1 m. A scenario including the removal of impervious surfaces, such as roads and houses, from newly inundated regions, demonstrated that managed retreat of the shoreline could potentially reduce the overall decline in seagrass habitat to just 5%. The predicted reduction in area of seagrass habitat could be offset by an improvement in water clarity of 30%. Greater improvements in water clarity would be necessary for larger magnitudes of SLR. Management to improve water quality will provide present and future benefits to seagrasses under climate change and should be a priority for managers seeking to compensate for the effects of global change on these valuable habitats.