Climate change and loss of saltmarshes: consequences for birds


  • R. G. Hughes

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Biological Sciences, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, London E1 4NS, UK
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Saltmarshes are areas of vegetation subject to tidal inundation and are important to birds for several reasons. Saltmarshes are areas of high primary productivity and their greatest significance for coastal birds is probably as the base of estuarine food webs, because saltmarshes export considerable amounts of organic carbon to adjacent habitats, particularly to the invertebrates of mudflats. In addition, saltmarshes are of direct importance to birds by providing sites for feeding, nesting and roosting. Climate change can affect saltmarshes in a number of ways, including through sea-level rise. When sea-level rises the marsh vegetation moves upward and inland but sea walls that prevent this are said to lead to coastal squeeze and loss of marsh area. However, evidence from southeast England, and elsewhere, indicates that sea-level rise does not necessarily lead to loss of marsh area because marshes accrete vertically and maintain their elevation with respect to sea-level where the supply of sediment is sufficient. Organogenic marshes and those in areas where sediment may be more limiting (e.g. some west coast areas) may be more susceptible to coastal squeeze, as may other marshes, if some extreme predictions of accelerated rates of sea-level rise are realized.