Oregon Coastal Ecosystems Weakening Due to Climate Change

A recent study conducted by Oregon State University suggests that the coastal ecosystems we Oregonians love are being weakened due to disturbances caused by climate change.   

Over the course of seven years, researchers at OSU measured the time it took for these communities to recover after a simulated disturbance, and found that it took them increasingly longer to recolonize each year. They’ve studied six different sites across three Oregon coastal areas – Cape Blanco, Cape Foulweather, and Cape Perpetua. Each of the sites contained both plots where the simulated disturbance occurred, as well as control plots. The ecosystems within the plots with disturbances took longer to recover than the control plots. 

“Each year, the system got further and further away from what the original system had looked like,” said Bruce Menge, who is the lead author of the study as well as a professor of integrative biology at OSU. 

Events tied to climate change like disease epidemics and marine heatwaves are becoming more frequent, and the resilience of these coastal ecosystems in Oregon is waning. Sooner or later, these ecosystems won’t be able to keep up and species will begin to disappear – speeding up their path to extinction.   

Depending on a species’s importance within an ecosystem, its disappearance can cause others who depended on it for food or shelter to suffer as well. 

For those who are imagining the dismal scene of empty tidepools that were once home to vibrant communities of marine life, OSU research associate Sarah Gravem offers a glimmer of hope.  

“These systems will come back if we give them the breathing room,” said Gravem. “If we listen to the folks that are at the forefront of climate solutions, it will be fine.” 

By Momoko Baker 

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