Vulnerabilities - Marine, estuarine and intertidal biodiversity
Changes in the distribution of marine species will occur with climate change. Although we are able to identify species which are potentially sensitive to climate change, the extent to which any changes will happen is very difficult to predict. Overall, there may be a greater potential for Ireland to lose existing seabird and coastal bird species as a result of climate change than to gain new species. Further exotic species will invade Ireland (1).
Changes in sea level may result in significant losses of lagoon and estuarine habitat and coastal ‘squeeze’ may prevent migration inland of these habitats in many parts of Ireland.
The effect of a sea level rise on estuaries will tend to enlarge their vertical and horizontal extent, resulting in the penetration of tides further upstream. The outflow from rivers would be impeded as a consequence. These changes in estuary morphology would also diminish sediment supply to the coastal zone as the sediment would be retained within the confines of the estuary. This has important implications for the coastal zone as off-shore sediment supply has almost ceased requiring reworking of existing sediment within the coastal zone. Studies conducted on the east coast of Britain predicted that estuaries could migrate landwards at a rate of 10 m/yr, assuming a sea level rise of 6 mm/yr.
Salt marshes and sand dunes are ecological strongholds providing a variety of habitats for a range of different species. Many of the marsh systems in Ireland provide over-wintering feeding grounds for many species of migratory birds. The loss of these habitats could present major problems for species numbers and diversity. Estuaries may also be affected by decreased runoff, which may reduce flushing. This would allow increased penetration of predators and pathogens of shellfish into estuarial zones (1).
Vulnerabilities - Terrestrial biodiversity
Montane heaths are suggested as being particularly sensitive to climate change, since many montane species are at the lower altitude/southern latitude edge of their distribution, with limited migration potential and an increase in temperature combined with summer drying may prove detrimental for this habitat in Ireland (2).
Similarly, peatlands are expected to suffer considerably from summer drying. An increase in decomposition, a reduction in peat formation, more erosion, changes in species composition, loss of carbon storage and an increase in acid runoff may occur in this already fragile resource (2).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Ireland.
- Environmental Protection Agency (2003)
- Department of theEnvironment, Heritage and Local Government