Projecting habitat and indicator species distributions for beach and surf zone ecosystems in current and future conditions within California's MPA network

Award Period
Award Amount
Agency Name
Cal Ocean Protection Council
Award Number
PI First Name
PI Last Name
Area/s of Research
Climate Change Science
Ecology and Evolution
Marine Conservation, Policy and Education
Natural Marine Resources

The increasing impacts of climate change on marine life and coastal communities are already affecting key habitats, food webs and ecosystem services making it essential to understand and quickly develop strategies to minimize and mitigate these impacts. Networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) may play a significant role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. MPAs protect diverse marine communities making them a key instrument in protecting resilient populations, vulnerable habitats, and allowing for the migration of species escaping climate change. A greater understanding how species and habitats within the MPA network may respond to future climate is a vital step for adaptation planning. Sandy beaches and surf zones are ecologically, culturally, and economically significant ecosystems that are particularly vulnerable to climate change, especially sea level rise (SLR) and flooding, and to the responses of society to SLR and flood risk, such as armoring and beach filling. As habitat, species and functions of these edge systems are impacted by climate change, biodiversity, food webs and essential functions of sandy beaches, such as nutrient filtering and storm buffering are at increasing risk.

Species distribution models are increasingly employed to project the future effects of climate change and can be used to evaluate the role of California’s MPA network in conserving vulnerable species and communities as climate change impacts accrue. These models statistically relate multiple environmental and habitat characteristics with observed occurrences of species. To date, few studies have incorporated the threat of SLR into species distributions and to the best of the grantee’s knowledge none have addressed these effects on sandy beaches and surf zones in California. Given the vulnerability and importance of these coastal ecosystems there is an urgent need to identify interacting effects of climate change and habitat loss, quantify the impacts of those losses on key species of these coastal systems, and develop adaptive management strategies to help mitigate these growing impacts. The project goals include describing habitat distributions of key species of sandy beach and surf zone ecosystems, projecting how these taxa will shift in response to climate change, and evaluating the role of CA’s MPA network in allowing these key species to adapt. The grantee will leverage existing models, methodologies, and ecological datasets to evaluate the distribution of key indicator species of sandy beach and surf zone ecosystems and their responses to climate change using species distribution models.