A groundbreaking scientific study is underway testing the use of fire as a way to help endangered coastal habitats adapt to rising sea levels.
Thanks to the Gulf of Mexico Foundation based here in Corpus Christi, scientists in Mississippi are looking at controlled burns as way to increase bio-diversity in coastal ecosystems, and help wetland marshes migrate inland as shorelines recede.
And our wetlands along the gulf are disappearing for a variety of reasons including development, land subsidence, and rising sea levels. In places like Louisiana the losses are truly alarming. And that's a major concern because the gulf is one of the nations most productive bodies of water and wetlands are a key component of the ecosystem.
The foundation obtained a $245,000 grant so that scientists can study whether controlled burns can help marsh vegetation move inland, as sea levels rise and shorelines recede. The project is the brainchild of Dr. Loretta Battalgia with Southern Illinois University And Dr.Julia Cherry with the University of Alabama,
They were doing coastal plant studies when they noticed that after hurricanes, wetland vegetation moved inland into the areas damaged by the storms. Dr. Battaglia says, "Where the woody plant communities were disturbed, either thru the wind or the storm surge that killed a lot of plants that weren't tolerant of the high salinity levels, we began to see some migration up slope of the marsh species. and this led us to think about what are the barriers for up slope migration, because marsh species are being impacted by sea level rise.
And it turns out the main barrier is the low brush that usually separates wetlands from the coastal prairies and forests. And that led to the idea of mimicking nature using controlled burns to remove the undergrowth.
Data was collected from control plots before the burns, and it will be compared with data collected from the plots over the next 2 years.
But so far, the preliminary results look very encouraging.
This just one of more than 80 project that have been founded by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation was created here 25 years ago by a group of concerned businessmen and scientists. For more information on the foundation, its projects,and donation opportunities, just go to http://www.gulfmex.org/
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