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  1. Abstract

    To inform water quality monitoring techniques and modeling at coastal research sites, this study investigated seasonality and trends in coastal lagoons on the eastern shore of Virginia, USA. Seasonality was quantified with harmonic analysis of low-frequency time-series, approximately 30 years of quarterly sampled data at thirteen mainland, lagoon, and ocean inlet sites, along with 4–6 years of high-frequency, 15-min resolution sonde data at two mainland sites. Temperature, dissolved oxygen, and apparent oxygen utilization (AOU) seasonality were dominated by annual harmonics, while salinity and chlorophyll-aexhibited mixed annual and semi-annual harmonics. Mainland sites had larger seasonal amplitudes and higher peak summer values for temperature, chlorophyll-aand AOU, likely from longer water residence times, shallower waters, and proximity to marshes and uplands. Based on the statistical subsampling of high-frequency data, one to several decades of low-frequency data (at quarterly sampling) were needed to quantify the climatological seasonal cycle within specified confidence intervals. Statistically significant decadal warming and increasing chlorophyll-aconcentrations were found at a sub-set of mainland sites, with no distinct geographic patterns for other water quality trends. The analysis highlighted challenges in detecting long-term trends in coastal water quality at sites sampled at low frequency with large seasonal and interannual variability.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 29, 2025
  2. Abstract

    As part of a long-term study on the effects of nitrogen (N) loading in a shallow temperate lagoon, we measured rates of N2fixation associated with seagrass (Zostera marina) epiphytes during the summer from 2005 to 2019, at two sites along a gradient from where high N groundwater enters the system (denoted SH) to a more well-flushed outer harbor (OH). The data presented here are the first such long-term N2fixation estimates for any seagrass system and one of the very few reported for the phyllosphere in a temperate system. Mean daily N2fixation was estimated from light and dark measurements using the acetylene reduction assay intercalibrated using both incorporation of15N2into biomass and a novel application of the N2:Ar method. Surprisingly, despite a large inorganic N input from a N-contaminated groundwater plume, epiphytic N2fixation rates were moderately to very high for a seagrass system (OH site 14-year mean of 0.94 mmol N m−2 d−1), with the highest rates (2.6 mmol N m−2 d−1) measured at the more N-loaded eutrophic site (SH) where dissolved inorganic N was higher and soluble reactive phosphorus was lower than in the better-flushed OH. Over 95% of the total N2fixation measured was in the light, suggesting the importance of cyanobacteria in the epiphyte assemblages. We observed large inter-annual variation both within and across the two study sites (range from 0.1 to 2.6 mmol N fixed m−2d−1), which we suggest is in part related to climatic variation. We estimate that input from phyllosphere N2fixation over the study period contributes on average an additional 20% to the total daily N load per area within the seagrass meadow.

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  3. Coastal landscapes are naturally shifting mosaics of distinct ecosystems that are rapidly migratingwith sealevel rise. Previous work illustrates that transitions among individual ecosystems have disproportionate impacts on the global carbon cycle, but this cannot address nonlinear interactions between multiple ecosystems that potentially cascade across the coastal landscape. Here, we synthesize carbon stocks, accumulation rates, and regional land cover data over 36 years (1984 and 2020) for a variety of ecosystems across a large portion of the rapidly transgressing mid-Atlantic coast. The coastal landscape of the Virginia Eastern Shore consists of temperate forest, salt marsh, seagrass beds, barrier islands, and coastal lagoons. We found that rapid losses and gains within individual ecosystems largely offset each other, which resulted in relatively stable areas for the different ecosystems, and a 4% (196.9 Gg C) reduction in regional carbon storage. However, new metrics of carbon replacement times indicated that it would take only 7 years of carbon accumulation in surviving ecosystems to compensate this loss. Our findings reveal unique compensatory mechanisms at the scale of entire landscapes that quickly absorb losses and facilitate increased regional carbon storage in the face of historical and contemporary sea-level rise. However, the strength of these compensatory mechanisms may diminish as climate change exacerbates the magnitude of carbon losses. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 15, 2024
  4. Restoration is accelerating to reverse global declines of key habitats and recover lost ecosystem functions, particularly in coastal ecosystems. However, there is high uncertainty about the long-term capacity of restored ecosystems to provide habitat and increase biodiversity and the degree to which these ecosystem services are mediated by spatial and temporal environmental variability. We addressed these gaps by sampling fishes biannually for 5–7 years (2012–2018) at 16 sites inside and outside a rapidly expanding restored seagrass meadow in coastal Virginia (USA). Despite substantial among-year variation in abun-dance and species composition, seine catches in restored seagrass beds were consistently larger (6.4 times more fish, p<0.001) and more speciose (2.6 times greater species richness, p<0.001; 3.1 times greater Hill–Shannon diversity, p=0.03) than seine catches in adjacent unvegetated areas. Catches were particularly larger during summer than autumn(p<0.01). Structural equation modeling revealed that depth and water residence time interacted to control seagrass presence, leading to higher fish abundance and richness in shallow, well-flushed areas that supported seagrass. Together, our results indicate that seagrass restoration yields large and consistent benefits for many coastal fishes, but that restoration and its benefits are sensitive to the dynamic seascapes in which restoration is conducted. Consideration of how seascape-scale environmental variability affects the success of habitat restoration and subsequent ecosystem function will improve restoration outcomes and the provisioning of ecosystem services. 
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  5. abstract Coastal ecosystems play a disproportionately large role in society, and climate change is altering their ecological structure and function, as well as their highly valued goods and services. In the present article, we review the results from decade-scale research on coastal ecosystems shaped by foundation species (e.g., coral reefs, kelp forests, coastal marshes, seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, barrier islands) to show how climate change is altering their ecological attributes and services. We demonstrate the value of site-based, long-term studies for quantifying the resilience of coastal systems to climate forcing, identifying thresholds that cause shifts in ecological state, and investigating the capacity of coastal ecosystems to adapt to climate change and the biological mechanisms that underlie it. We draw extensively from research conducted at coastal ecosystems studied by the US Long Term Ecological Research Network, where long-term, spatially extensive observational data are coupled with shorter-term mechanistic studies to understand the ecological consequences of climate change. 
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  6. Abstract

    Seagrass meadows are important carbon sinks in the global coastal carbon cycle yet are also among the most rapidly declining marine habitats. Their ability to sequester carbon depends on flow–sediment–vegetation interactions that facilitate net deposition, as well as high rates of primary production. However, the effects of seasonal and episodic variations in seagrass density on net sediment and carbon accumulation have not been well quantified. Understanding these dynamics provides insight into how carbon accumulation in seagrass meadows responds to disturbance events and climate change. Here, we apply a spatially resolved sediment transport model that includes coupling of seagrass effects on flow, waves, and sediment resuspension in a seagrass meadow to quantify seasonal rates of sediment and carbon accumulation in the meadow. Our results show that organic carbon accumulation rates were largely determined by sediment accumulation and that they both changed non‐linearly as a function of seagrass shoot density. While seagrass meadows effectively trapped sediment at meadow edges during spring–summer growth seasons, during winter senescence low‐density meadows (< 160 shoots m−2) were erosional with rates sensitive to density. Small variations in winter densities resulted in large changes in annual sediment and carbon accumulation in the meadow; meadow‐scale (hundreds of square meters) summer seagrass dieback due to marine heatwaves can result in annual erosion and carbon loss. Our findings highlight the strong temporal and spatial variability in sediment accumulation within seagrass meadows and the implications for annual sediment carbon burial rates and the resilience of seagrass carbon stocks under future climate change.

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    Worldwide, seagrass meadows accumulate significant stocks of organic carbon (C), known as “blue” carbon, which can remain buried for decades to centuries. However, when seagrass meadows are disturbed, these C stocks may be remineralized, leading to significant CO 2 emissions. Increasing ocean temperatures, and increasing frequency and severity of heat waves, threaten seagrass meadows and their sediment blue C. To date, no study has directly measured the impact of seagrass declines from high temperatures on sediment C stocks. Here, we use a long-term record of sediment C stocks from a 7-km 2 , restored eelgrass ( Zostera marina ) meadow to show that seagrass dieback following a single marine heat wave (MHW) led to significant losses of sediment C. Patterns of sediment C loss and re-accumulation lagged patterns of seagrass recovery. Sediment C losses were concentrated within the central area of the meadow, where sites experienced extreme shoot density declines of 90% during the MHW and net losses of 20% of sediment C over the following 3 years. However, this effect was not uniform; outer meadow sites showed little evidence of shoot declines during the MHW and had net increases of 60% of sediment C over the following 3 years. Overall, sites with higher seagrass recovery maintained 1.7x as much C compared to sites with lower recovery. Our study demonstrates that while seagrass blue C is vulnerable to MHWs, localization of seagrass loss can prevent meadow-wide C losses. Long-term (decadal and beyond) stability of seagrass blue C depends on seagrass resilience to short-term disturbance events. 
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  9. Low elevation coastal zones (LECZ) are extensive throughout the southeastern United States. LECZ communities are threatened by inundation from sea level rise, storm surge, wetland degradation, land subsidence, and hydrological flooding. Communication among scientists, stakeholders, policy makers and minority and poor residents must improve. We must predict processes spanning the ecological, physical, social, and health sciences. Communities need to address linkages of (1) human and socioeconomic vulnerabilities; (2) public health and safety; (3) economic concerns; (4) land loss; (5) wetland threats; and (6) coastal inundation. Essential capabilities must include a network to assemble and distribute data and model code to assess risk and its causes, support adaptive management, and improve the resiliency of communities. Better communication of information and understanding among residents and officials is essential. Here we review recent background literature on these matters and offer recommendations for integrating natural and social sciences. We advocate for a cyber-network of scientists, modelers, engineers, educators, and stakeholders from academia, federal state and local agencies, non-governmental organizations, residents, and the private sector. Our vision is to enhance future resilience of LECZ communities by offering approaches to mitigate hazards to human health, safety and welfare and reduce impacts to coastal residents and industries. 
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