Climatic Change

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 391-416

First online:

Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on the Great Lakes Shoreline Wetlands

  • Linda D. MortschAffiliated withEnvironmental Adaptation Research Group, Environmental Canada, c/o Faculty of Environmental Studies, University of Waterloo

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Great Lakes shoreline wetlands are adapted to a variable water supply. They require the disturbance of water level fluctuations to maintain their productivity. However, the magnitude and rate of climate change could alter the hydrology of the Great Lakes and affect wetland ecosystems. Wetlands would have to adjust to a new pattern of water level fluctuations; the timing, duration, and range of these fluctuations are critical to the wetland ecosystem response. Two "what if" scenarios: (1) an increased frequency and duration of low water levels and (2) a changed temporal distribution and amplitude of seasonal water levels were developed to assess the sensitivity of shoreline wetlands to climate change. Wetland functions and values such as wildlife, waterfowl and fish habitat, water quality, areal extent, and vegetation diversity are affected by these scenarios. Key wetlands are at risk, particularly those that are impeded from adapting to the new water level conditions by man-made structures or geomorphic conditions. Wetland remediation, protection and enhancement policies and programs must consider climate change as an additional stressor of wetlands.

Great Lakes shoreline wetlands water level changes impacts