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Climate change is anticipated to exacerbate the extinction risk of species whose persistence is already compromised by habitat loss, invasive species, disease, or other stressors. In coastal areas of the southeastern United States (USA), many imperiled vertebrates are vulnerable to hurricanes, which climate models predict to become more severe in the 21st century. Despite this escalating threat, explicit adaptation strategies that address hurricane threats, in particular, and climate change more generally, are largely underrepresented in recovery planning and implementation. We provide a basis for stronger emphasis on strategic planning for imperiled species facing the increasing threat of catastrophic hurricanes. Our reasoning comes from observations of short-term environmental and biological impacts of Hurricane Michael, which impacted the Gulf Coast of the southeastern USA in October 2018. During this storm, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, located along the northern Gulf of Mexico's coast in the panhandle region of Florida, received storm surge that was 3.0–3.6 m (NAVD88) above sea level. Storm surge pushed sea water into some ephemeral freshwater ponds used for breeding by the federally threatened frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum). After the storm, specific conductance across all ponds measured varied from 80 to 23,100 µS/cm, compared to 75 to 445 µS/cm in spring 2018. For 17 overwashed wetlands that were measured in both spring and fall 2018, posthurricane conductance observations were, on average, more than 90 times higher than in the previous spring, setting the stage for varying population responses across this coastal landscape. Importantly, we found live individual flatwoods salamanders at both overwashed and non-overwashed sites, although we cannot yet assess the demographic consequences of this storm. We outline actions that could be incorporated into climate adaptation strategies and recovery planning for imperiled species, like A. cingulatum, that are associated with freshwater coastal wetlands in hurricane-prone regions.
Walls, S. C., Barichivich, W. J., Chandler, J., Meade, A. M., Milinichik, M., O’Donnell, K. M., … Wetsch, O. E. (2019). Seeking shelter from the storm: Conservation and management of imperiled species in a changing climate. Ecology and Evolution, 9(12), 7122–7133. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5277