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Challenges and Directions for the Advancement of Estuarine Ecosystem Science

Abstract

Estuarine ecosystem ecology is a dynamic field of study that has historically focused on a spectrum of compelling research topics, and here we present a series of perspectives on the major challenges to be overcome and key research questions to be addressed toward making progress over the coming decades. The challenges we identify include (1) maintaining and improving spatially distributed time-series datasets, (2) maximizing innovation by harnessing new technologies, (3) resuscitating experimental ecosystem research for estuaries, (4) integrating diagnostic ecological models into ecosystem research, and (5) improving basic science by linking it to applied research. We also raise a number of key research questions for the field, including (1) how does food web function respond to changing climate and nutrients, (2) what are likely trajectories of ecosystem recovery in response to restoration, (3) how does climate alter seasonality of estuarine ecosystem processes, (4) how do estuaries affect the global carbon budget and what are key feedbacks, and (5) how will tidal wetland ecosystems respond to sea level rise and climate change? Looking ahead, we envision that the field of estuarine ecosystem ecology will continue to build upon its rich tradition to address fundamental research questions with an expanded toolkit and enlightened perspective to focus basic science on the knowledge needs of society.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for the many estuarine ecosystem ecologists whose invaluable contributions to our field have made it possible for us to consider the perspectives in this essay. Support from several grants and contracts have made this essay possible, including the US National Science Foundation grants (i) DEB1353766 (OPUS; Kemp and Boynton) and (ii) CBET1360415 (WSC; Testa and Kemp), US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants (iii) NA14OAR4170090 (Harris and Testa) and (iv) NA15NOS4780184 (Testa and Kemp), and (v) National Aeronautics and Space Administration grant NNX14AM37G (Kemp). This paper is contribution #5190 of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

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Correspondence to Jeremy M. Testa.

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JM Testa, WM Kemp, LA Harris, RJ Woodland, and WR Boynton all composed sections of this manuscript. All authors contributed to figure conceptualization and/or creation.

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Testa, J.M., Kemp, W.M., Harris, L.A. et al. Challenges and Directions for the Advancement of Estuarine Ecosystem Science. Ecosystems 20, 14–22 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-016-0004-0

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Keywords

  • climate
  • ecology
  • ecosystem
  • estuaries
  • experimental ecosystems
  • food web
  • management
  • modeling
  • time-series
  • carbon budget