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Changes in Habitat Availability for Multiple Life Stages of Diamondback Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) in Chesapeake Bay in Response to Sea Level Rise

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Global sea level rise (SLR) will significantly alter coastal landscapes through inundation and erosion of low-lying areas. Animals that display area fidelity and rely on fringing coastal habitats during multiple life stages, such as diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin Schoepff 1793), are likely to be particularly vulnerable to SLR-induced changes. We used a combination of empirical nest survey data and results from a regional SLR model to explore the long-term availability of known nesting locations and the modeled availability of fringing coastal habitats under multiple SLR scenarios for diamondback terrapin in the MD portion of Chesapeake Bay and the MD coastal bays. All SLR scenarios projected the rapid inundation of historically used nesting locations of diamondback terrapins with 25%–55% loss within the next 10 years and over 80% loss by the end of the century. Model trajectories of habitat losses or gains depended on habitat type and location. A key foraging habitat, brackish marsh, was projected to decline 6%–94%, with projections varying spatially and among scenarios. Despite predicted losses of extant beach habitats, future gains in beach habitat due to erosion and overwash were projected to reach 40%–600%. These results demonstrate the potential vulnerability of diamondback terrapins to SLR in Chesapeake Bay and underscore the possibility of compounding negative effects of SLR on animals whose habitat requirements differ among life stages. More broadly, this study highlights the vulnerability of species dependent on fringing coastal habitats and emphasizes the need for a long-term perspective for coastal development in the face of SLR.

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The authors thank D. Day, M. Tolker, and the many field assistants for their help in the field, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland Audubon Society for providing housing, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for providing permits during diamondback terrapin nesting surveys. Funding for the nesting survey was provided primarily by the United States Geological Survey. The authors thank D. Cahoon and several anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and the National Wildlife Federation for permission to use spatial data from the Glick et al. 2008 report. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. This is contribution #5276 of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

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Correspondence to Ryan J. Woodland.

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Communicated by Patricia Ramey-Balci

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Woodland, R.J., Rowe, C.L. & Henry, P.F.P. Changes in Habitat Availability for Multiple Life Stages of Diamondback Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) in Chesapeake Bay in Response to Sea Level Rise. Estuaries and Coasts 40, 1502–1515 (2017).

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