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Abstract Detail

The North American Coastal Plain: a Global Biodiversity Hotspot

Costanza, Jennifer [1], Terando, Adam [2].

Land conversion, fire suppression, and climate change: regional threats to the Coastal Plain’s ecosystems.

To qualify as a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, a region must not only be high in diversity and endemism, but must also have experienced a high degree of habitat loss or degradation. In the North American Coastal Plain, fire suppression and conversion of habitat to urban and agricultural land uses are the major factors that have contributed to habitat loss in the recent past. Here, we present a synthesis of our recent and ongoing work to examine these threats and quantify potential future regional trends. Our research can help address the following questions: (1) To what extent have habitats in the Coastal Plain already been affected by land conversion or fire suppression? (2) What are the potential future effects of land conversion, fire suppression, and climate change? (3) What role might management, and specifically prescribed fire, have in maintaining and restoring Coastal Plain habitats? We have used a combination of GIS analyses and simulation modeling to address these questions.
Our results show that > 70% of the Coastal Plain landscape has already been altered due to lack of fire or direct conversion to human-dominated land uses. Recent wildfire records from the region indicate that the current annual area burned is likely 20 times lower than before European settlement. Results from simulation studies suggest that the effects of land conversion and fire suppression on ecosystems in the Coastal Plain are likely to worsen in the future. Projections of urban growth show a doubling of the urban extent by 2060, converting another 6% of the region to urban and suburban land uses. Simulations of likely wildfire regimes suggest that if current levels of wildfire suppression continue, two-thirds of existing fire-maintained habitat in the region could be degraded. However, simulation results do suggest that prescribed fires can have large positive effects on Coastal Plain ecosystems. If prescribed fires are implemented throughout the region, widespread restoration of fire-dependent ecosystems could be accomplished in the future. Finally, our results indicate that the effect of climate change on the wildfire regime will be only slight, and will not have a large impact on fire-suppressed habitats. However, much of the Coastal Plain is at low elevation and could be affected by sea level rise. Our research points to prescribed burning as a critical conservation priority for maintaining and restoring habitats in the North American Coastal Plain Global Biodiversity Hotspot.

Broader Impacts:

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1 - North Carolina State University, Department of Biology, Campus Box 7617, Raleigh, North Carolina, 27695, USA
2 - U.S. Geological Survey, Dept. of Interior Southeast Climate Science Center, North Carolina State University, Campus Box 7617, Raleigh, NC, 27695, USA

Climate Change
land conversion
future threat
sea level rise
prescribed fire.

Presentation Type: Symposium or Colloquium Presentation
Session: SY08
Location: Elmwood/Riverside Hilton
Date: Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Time: 4:45 PM
Number: SY08008
Abstract ID:349
Candidate for Awards:None

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