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A System Level Analysis of Coastal Ecosystem Responses to Hurricane Impacts

Abstract

Tropical cyclones are major disturbances for coastal systems. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, USA, on August 25, 2017 as a category 4 storm. There were two distinct disturbances associated with this storm that were spatially decoupled: (1) high winds causing direct damage and storm surge, and (2) high rains causing scouring floods and significant discharge of fresh water carrying carbon and nutrients to estuaries. Here, we provide a synthesis of the effects of Hurricane Harvey on biogeochemical, hydrographic, and biotic components of freshwater and estuarine systems and their comparative resistance and resilience to wind- and rain-driven disturbances. Wind-driven disturbances were most severe along the coastal barrier islands and lower estuaries, damaging mangroves and seagrass and increasing sediment coarseness. Rain-driven disturbances were most pronounced within freshwater streams and the upper estuaries. Large volumes of freshwater run-off reduced the abundance of riverine fauna and caused hypoxic and hyposaline conditions in the estuaries for over a week. In response to this freshwater input event, benthic fauna diversity and abundance decreased, but mobile fauna such as estuarine fishes did not markedly change. Although hydrographic and biogeochemical components were highly perturbed, they returned to baseline conditions within days. In contrast, biotic components demonstrated lower magnitude changes, but some of these organisms, particularly the sedentary flora and fauna, required weeks to months to return to pre-storm conditions, and some did not recover within the 6 months reported here. Our synthesis illustrates that resistance and resilience of system components may negatively co-vary and that structural components of coastal systems may be the most vulnerable to long-term changes following tropical cyclones.

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Funding

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers 1903760, 1760006, 1761677, 1761414, 1761428 1763167, 1807143, 1761444, and 1654232; by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under award NA15NOS4780185; by support from the Texas College Research Enhancement Fund; by the ongoing sampling efforts of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; and by an Institutional Grant (NA14OAR4170102, NA18OAR4170088) to the Texas Sea Grant College Program from the National Sea Grant Office, NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Communicated by Steven Litvin

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Patrick, C.J., Yeager, L., Armitage, A.R. et al. A System Level Analysis of Coastal Ecosystem Responses to Hurricane Impacts. Estuaries and Coasts 43, 943–959 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-019-00690-3

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Keywords

  • Disturbance
  • Coastal ecosystem
  • Fish
  • Invertebrates
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Mangroves
  • Seagrass
  • Hurricane Harvey