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LISS investigating climate change on ecosystems

Published 12:06 pm, Saturday, December 22, 2012
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The Long Island Sound Study will investigate climate change impacts on key wildlife and ecosystem resources in the waterway.

The project -- "Sentinels of Climate Change: Coastal Indicators of Wildlife and Ecosystem Change in Long Island Sound" -- is part of LISS's Sentinel Monitoring for Climate Change program.

A sentinel is "a measurable variable (physical, biological, or chemical environmental indicator) that is susceptible to some key aspect of climate change."

The program aims to identify and study sentinels that can serve as a "canary in the coal mine" to help provide early warnings regarding potential effects of climate change, facilitating appropriate and timely management decisions for the long-term health of the Long Island Sound ecosystem.

The lead investigators are University of Connecticut scientists Chris S. Elphick, Ph.D., and Min. T. Huang, Ph.D., with support from Ph.D. student Chris Field.

They will address several of the key sentinels identified by the monitoring program, including the responses of critical and sensitive habitats, such as salt marsh and tidal flats, and how changes in these ecosystems impact the population and behavior patterns of key bird species inhabiting them.

The project is also cost-effective because it makes use of existing data and resources, while supplementing those efforts with the collection of additional monitoring data.

Funding for this project was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is administering the $193,049 project agreement, which will be conducted through 2014, on behalf of both Connecticut and New York.

"Long Island Sound is likely to see substantial changes over the coming decades," said Elphick, whose expertise includes the study of the endangered salt marsh sparrow, a species inhabiting Long Island Sound tidal marshes that is threatened by sea level rise. "This project will provide a detailed baseline against which to judge future changes. Most importantly, this knowledge will facilitate better, more cost-effective planning for the protection of natural resources."

Mark Tedesco, director of the EPA Long Island Sound Office, said, "Evidence of climate change is now visible in our local ecosystem.

The broad scope of this project will help managers make better informed decisions on protecting a wide range of vulnerable species and habitats in the Sound."

"It is critical for us to measure and assess climate impacts on Long Island Sound in order to develop effective strategies for protecting what is Connecticut's largest and most important natural resource. Through this monitoring project, we will obtain information and data on Long Island Sound's changing ecosystems that will provide environmental managers the tools they need to help us protect against and adapt to the pressures of climate change," said DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty.