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Fate of Endangered Species in San Francisco Bay Tidal Marshes with Sea-Level Rise


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The San Francisco Bay estuary contains the largest remaining expanse of tidal salt marshes in the western U.S. These marshes are home to a variety of federal and state protected species, such as the California clapper rail, California black rail, and the salt marsh harvest mouse. The estuary is also located on the Pacific Flyway, and is an important site for migrating and wintering birds. As climate conditions change, these salt marshes face a number of threats, including accelerated rates of sea-level rise, shifting precipitation, erosion, and more frequent and intense storms. Seas in the San Francisco Bay estuary have been rising 2.2 centimeters per decade, and could rise by as much as 1.24 meters by 2100, according to some projections. [...]

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“Salt marsh harvest mouse - Credit: M. Bias, DOI”
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“Marsh - Public Domain”
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The San Francisco Bay estuary, though severely fragmented and modified, represents the largest extent of tidal marsh in the western United States. Projected sea-level rise of 0.3-1.5 meters poses further threat to several endemic tidal marsh species that are listed as federally endangered or state threatened species, such as the salt marsh harvest mouse, the California clapper rail,and the California black rail. Resource and land managers charged with the protection of endangered species and their habitats are in need of site-specific predictions of anticipated climate change impacts through the synthesis of downscaled regional climate change models and available data on species’ ecological constraints. Changing sediment loads, extreme tide and storm events, salinities, and sea level rise will affect tidal marshes by altering the plant community composition and structure that provide the critical habitat for these endemic species. Our interdisciplinary study objectives were to: (1) develop high resolution elevation models of San Francisco Bay tidal salt marshes and predict effects of sea level rise; (2) determine and quantify the likely effect of sea level rise on vertebrate endemic species and their salt marsh habitats at local and regional landscape levels; (3) evaluate whether remnant marshes accrete at rates that will be sustainable through time or whether some will be “drowned”; and (4) downscale tidal cycles to assess site-specific inundation patterns in estuary tidal marshes.

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