Wetlands provide critical services to natural and human communities alike, forming important wildlife habitat, storing and filtering water, sequestering carbon, and offering opportunities for recreation. Unfortunately, not only are these valuable ecosystems understudied compared to others, but they are also among the most sensitive to climate change. Climate change threatens wetlands by altering temperature and precipitation, which cause changes in water level and water temperature. Due to this threat, the international community and domestic agencies alike have highlighted the need to better understand wetlands in the face of climate change, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to the Ramsar Convention, to the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
Focusing on the Pacific Northwest region, this project substantially improves our understanding of wetlands and how they will respond to climate change. Researchers developed new methods to map and monitor wetlands, modeled historical and future wetland hydrologic conditions, and evaluated the impacts of climate change on wetlands and the species that rely on them. Results show that montane wetlands – those found in high altitudes – are particularly vulnerable to climate change, which is causing reduced snowpack and longer summer drought, threatening the species that depend on them. Amphibians in particular, such as the Cascades frog, rely on wetlands for breeding and are at risk of local extinction due to the loss of suitable habitat.
This research produced information that is essential for managers seeking to understand the vulnerability of wetland ecosystems to climate change and to effectively plan for and mitigate its impacts. By studying wetlands in multiple locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, researchers discovered that the effects of climate change varied considerably between sites, suggesting that a one-size-fits all approach might not work – rather, management efforts may need to be tailored accordingly from site to site.
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“Marshland - Credit: Ruth Jacobs, USGS”