Ecological resilience is a powerful heuristic for ecosystem management in the context of rapid environmental change. Significant efforts are underway to improve the resilience of biodiversity and ecological function to extreme events and directional change across all types of landscapes, from intact natural systems to highly modified landscapes such as cities and agricultural regions. However, identifying management strategies likely to promote ecological resilience remains a challenge. In this article, we present seven core dimensions to guide long-term and large-scale resilience planning in highly modified landscapes, with the objective of providing a structure and shared vocabulary for recognizing opportunities and actions likely to increase resilience across the whole landscape. We illustrate application of our approach to landscape-scale ecosystem management through case studies from two highly modified California landscapes, Silicon Valley and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. We propose that resilience-based management is best implemented at large spatial scales and through collaborative, cross-sector partnerships.
This talk was given at the 2018 Restore America's Estuary Conference in Long Beach, CA as part of a special session titled "Restoration Perspectives from the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve." It is based on information from the Tijuana River Valley Historical Ecology Investigation, a report published in 2017.
Though many areas of the binational Tijuana River watershed remain relatively undeveloped, land and water use changes over the past 200 years have resulted in significant ecological impacts, particularly in the more urbanized areas of the lower watershed. Drawing upon a diverse set of historical data, we reconstructed the ecological and hydrogeomorphic conditions of the lower Tijuana River valley prior to major Euro-American modification (ca. 1850) and documented major changes in habitat distribution and physical processes over this time. The river corridor, which was historically dominated by riparian scrub, today instead supports dense stands of riparian forest. The valley bottom surrounding the river corridor, which historically supported extensive seasonal wetlands, has largely been converted to drier habitat types and agricultural uses. The estuary, which historically supported large expanses of salt marsh and mudflat as well as seasonally dry salt flats, has retained much of its former extent and character, but has been altered by increased sediment input and other factors. The new information about the historical landscape presented here is relevant to a number of issues scientists and managers are dealing with today, including the conservation of endangered species, the fate of the valley’s riparian habitats after the recent invasion of invasive shot-hole borer beetles, and the effects on groundwater levels on native plant communities. We will also draw from other historical ecology studies conducted in Southern California to illustrate how the information about the past has been utilized to improve the functioning and resilience of nearby coastal ecosystems.
Presentation recording: available here.
This study reconstructs the historical landscape of the Petaluma River watershed and documents the major landscape changes that have taken place within the watershed over the past two centuries. Prior to Spanish and American settlement of the region, the Petaluma River watershed supported a dynamic and interconnected network of streams, riparian forests, freshwater wetlands, and tidal marshes. These habitats were utilized by a wide range of plant and animal species, including a number of species that are today listed as threatened or endangered such as Ridgway’s Rail, Black Rail, salt marsh harvest mouse, California red-legged frog, Central California Coast steelhead, and soft bird’s beak (CNDDB 2012, SRCD 2015). Agricultural and urban development beginning in the mid-1800s has significantly altered the landscape, degrading habitat for fish and wildlife and contributing to contemporary management challenges such as flooding, pollutant loading, erosion, and sedimentation. While many natural areas and remnant wetlands still exist throughout the watershed—most notably the Petaluma Marsh—their ecological function is in many cases seriously impaired and their long-term fate jeopardized by climate change and other stressors. Multi-benefit wetland restoration strategies, guided by a thorough understanding of landscape history, can simultaneously address a range of chronic management issues while improving the ecological health of the watershed, making it a better place to live for both people and wildlife.
This report proposes a multi-faceted redesign of the South San Francisco Bay shoreline at the interface with Calabazas and San Tomas Aquino creeks. Recognizing the opportunities presented by changing land use and new challenges, such as accelerated sea-level rise, we explore in this report a reconfigured shoreline that could improve ecosystem health and resilience, reduce maintenance costs, and protect surrounding infrastructure.
Over the past 200 years, many of the channels that drain to San Francisco Bay have been modified for land reclamation and flood management. The local agencies that oversee these channels are seeking new management approaches that provide multiple benefits and promote landscape resilience. This includes channel redesign to improve natural sediment transport to downstream bayland habitats and beneficial re-use of dredged sediment for building and sustaining baylands as sea level continues to rise under a changing climate. Flood Control 2.0 is a regional project that was created to help develop innovative approaches for integrating habitat improvement and resilience into flood risk management at the Bay interface. Through a series of technical, economic, and regulatory analyses, the project addresses some of the major elements associated with multi-benefit channel design and management at the Bay interface and provides critical information that can be used by the management and restoration communities to develop long-term solutions that benefit people and wildlife.
This Flood Control 2.0 report provides a regional analysis of morphologic change and sediment dynamics in flood control channels at the Bay interface, and multi-benefit management concepts aimed at bringing habitat restoration into flood risk management. The findings presented here are built on a synthesis of historical and contemporary data that included input from Flood Control 2.0 project scientists, project partners, and science advisors. The results and recommendations, summarized below, will help operationalize many of the recommendations put forth in the Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Science Update (Goals Project 2015) and support better alignment of management and restoration communities on multi-benefit bayland management approaches.
This study synthesizes a diverse array of data to examine the ecological patterns, ecosystem functions, and hydrology that characterized a central portion of the Laguna de Santa Rosa during the mid-19th century, and to analyze landscape changes over the past 150 years. The primary purpose of this study was to help guide restoration actions and other measures aimed at reducing nutrient loads within this portion of the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed.
In this report, we investigate how re-integrating components of oak woodlands into developed landscapes — “re-oaking” — can provide an array of valuable functions for both wildlife and people. Re-oaking can increase the biodiversity and ecological resilience of urban ecosystems, improve critical urban forest functions such as shade and carbon storage, and enhance the capacity of cities to adapt to a changing climate. We focus on Silicon Valley, where oak woodland replacement by agriculture and urbanization tells a story that has occurred in many other cities in California. We highlight how the history and ecology of the Silicon Valley landscape can be used as a guide to plan more ecologically-resilient cities in the Bay Area, within the region and elsewhere in California. We see re-oaking as part of, and not a substitute for, the important and broader oak woodland conservation efforts taking place throughout the state.
This study investigates the relative distribution, health, and regeneration patterns of two major stands of sycamore alluvial woodland (SAW), representing managed and natural settings. Using an array of ecological and geomorphic field analyses, we discuss site characteristics favorable to SAW health and regeneration, make recommendations for restoration and management, and identify next steps. Findings from this study will contribute to the acquisition, restoration, and improved management of SAW as part of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Plan (VHP).
The Tijuana River Valley Historical Ecology Investigation addresses a regional data gap by reconstructing the landscape and ecosystem characteristics of the river valley prior to the major modifications of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The research presented here, funded by the California State Coastal Conservancy, supplies foundational information at the regional and system scale about how the Tijuana Estuary, River, and valley looked and functioned in the recent past, as well as how they have changed over time. The ultimate goal of this study is to provide a new tool and framework that, in combination with contemporary research and future projections, can support and guide ongoing restoration design, planning, and management efforts in the valley.
This report offers guidance for creating and maintaining landscapes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that support desired ecological functions, while retaining the overall agricultural character and water-supply service of the region. Based on extensive research into how the Delta functioned historically, how it has changed, and how it is likely to evolve, we discuss where and how to re-establish the dynamic natural processes that can sustain native Delta habitats and wildlife into the future. The approach, building on work others have piloted and championed, is to restore or emulate natural processes where possible, establish an appropriate mosaic of habitat types at the landscape scale, use multi-benefit management strategies to increase support for native species in agricultural and urban areas, and allow the Delta to adapt to future uncertainties of climate change, levee failure, and human population growth. With this approach, it will be critical to integrate ecological improvements with the human landscape: a robust agricultural economy, water infrastructure and diversions, and urbanized areas. Strategic restoration that builds on the history and ecology of the region can contribute to the strong sense of place and recreational value of the Delta.
The physical and ecological environment of the upper San Francisco Estuary has been profoundly altered since the early 1800s. Recent efforts have utilized maps of the upper estuary’s historical habitat types to infer associated changes in desired ecosystem processes and functions. The work presented in this memo builds on these previous efforts, but utilizes a new tool for evaluating change over time: a 3D hydrodynamic model of the pre-development estuary. This model was constructed by Resource Management Associates (RMA) using a new digital elevation model of the pre-development upper estuary generated by SFEI and UC Davis (UCD) and “natural” boundary flows calculated by the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR).
Once completed and calibrated, the pre-development model was paired with a similar model of the contemporary system in order to analyze hydrodynamic changes in the upper estuary. These analyses are presented in a technical memorandum published by RMA (2015). This memorandum takes these analyses and considers the ecological implications of modeled changes (see the “Results” section). Hydrodynamic analyses include analyzing changes in tidal prism, isohaline positions, low-salinity zone habitat, channel velocity, and source water distribution.
In addition to describing the ecological implications of modeled hydrodynamic changes, this memorandum summarizes major ongoing questions about estuarine hydrodynamics that might be explored using these models, including changes in water residence time, temperature, transport pathways, and the connectivity of aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats. Understanding changes in these and other factors would greatly improve our understanding of the desirable ecosystem functions provided by the historical system and, as a result, improve our ability to recover these functions now and into the future.
Context Effective river restoration requires understanding a system’s potential to support desired functions. This can be challenging to discern in the modern landscape, where natural complexity and heterogeneity are often heavily suppressed or modified. Historical analysis is therefore a valuable tool to provide the long-term perspective on riverine patterns, processes, and ecosystem change needed to set appropriate environmental management goals and strategies.
Objective In this study, we reconstructed historical (early 1800s) riparian conditions, river corridor extent, and dry-season flow on the lower Santa Clara River in southern California, with the goal of using this enhanced understanding to inform restoration and management activities.
Method Hundreds of cartographic, textual, and visual accounts were integrated into a GIS database of historical river characteristics.
Results We found that the river was characterized by an extremely broad river corridor and a diverse mosaic of riparian communities that varied by reach, from extensive ([100 ha) willow-cottonwood forests to xeric scrublands. Reach-scale ecological heterogeneity was linked to local variations in dry-season water availability, which was in turn underpinned by regional geophysical controls on groundwater and surface flow.
Conclusions Although human actions have greatly impacted the river’s extent, baseflow hydrology, and riparian habitats, many ecological attributes persist in more limited form, in large part facilitated by these fundamental hydrogeological controls. By drawing on a heretofore untapped dataset of spatially explicit and long-term environmental data, these findings improve our understanding of the river’s historical and current conditions and allow the derivation of reach-differentiated restoration and management opportunities that take advantage of local potential.
The goals of the Mission Bay Historical Ecology Reconnaissance Study were to collect and compile high-priority historical
data about the Mission Bay landscape, identify sources that could help to develop a deeper understanding of early
ecological conditions, and to identify future possible research directions based on the available data. This technical
memorandum is intended to document the archives consulted during the reconnaissance study, summarize the collected
and compiled data, and to identify potential next steps. A separate technical presentation to project staff and advisors will
summarize the preliminary findings and questions generated from a review of the historical dataset. Ultimately, this
research is intended to support the San Diego Audubon Society’s Mission Bay Wetlands Conceptual Restoration Plan (CRP)
and the ReWild Mission Bay project.
To evaluate the role of restoration in the recovery of the Delta ecosystem, we need to have clear targets and performance measures that directly assess ecosystem function. Primary production is a crucial ecosystem process, which directly limits the quality and quantity of food available for secondary consumers such as invertebrates and fish. The Delta has a low rate of primary production, but it is unclear whether this was always the case. Recent analyses from the Historical Ecology Team and Delta Landscapes Project provide quantitative comparisons of the areal extent of 14 habitat types in the modern Delta versus the historical Delta (pre-1850). Here we describe an approach for using these metrics of land use change to: (1) produce the first quantitative estimates of how Delta primary production and the relative contributions from five different producer groups have been altered by large-scale drainage and conversion to agriculture; (2) convert these production estimates into a common currency so the contributions of each producer group reflect their food quality and efficiency of transfer to consumers; and (3) use simple models to discover how tidal exchange between marshes and open water influences primary production and its consumption. Application of this approach could inform Delta management in two ways. First, it would provide a quantitative estimate of how large-scale conversion to agriculture has altered the Delta's capacity to produce food for native biota. Second, it would provide restoration practitioners with a new approach—based on ecosystem function—to evaluate the success of restoration projects and gauge the trajectory of ecological recovery in the Delta region.
Lower Walnut Creek (Contra Costa County, CA) and its surrounding landscape have undergone considerable land reclamation and development since the mid-nineteenth century. In 1965, the lower 22 miles of Walnut Creek and the lower reaches of major tributaries were converted to flood control channels to protect the surrounding developed land. In the recent past, sediment was periodically removed from the lower Walnut Creek Flood Control Channel to provide flow capacity and necessary flood protection. Due to the wildlife impacts and costs associated with this practice, the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (District) is now seeking a new channel management approach that works with natural processes and benefits people and wildlife in a cost-effective manner. Flood Control 2.0 project scientists and a Regional Science Advisory Team (RSAT) worked with the District to develop a long-term management Vision for lower Walnut Creek that could result in a multi-benefit landscape that restores lost habitat and is resilient under a changing climate.
With rising sea levels and the increased likelihood of extreme weather events, it is important for regional agencies and local municipalities in the San Francisco Bay Area to have a clear understanding of the status, composition, condition, and elevation of our current Bay shore, including both natural features and built infrastructure.
The purpose of this Bay shore inventory is to create a comprehensive and consistent picture of today’s Bay shore features to inform regional planning. This dataset includes both structures engineered expressly for flood risk management (such as accredited levees) and features that affect flooding at the shore but are not designed or maintained for this purpose (such as berms, road embankments, and marshes). This mapping covers as much of the ‘real world’ influence on flooding and flood routing as possible, including the large number of non-accredited structures.
This information is needed to:
- identify areas vulnerable to flooding.
- identify adaptation constraints due to present Bay shore alignments; and
- suggest opportunities where beaches, wetlands, and floodplains can be maintained or restored and integrated into flood risk management strategies.
The primary focus of the project is therefore to inform regional planners and managers of Bay shore characteristics and vulnerabilities. The mapping presented here is neither to inform FEMA flood designation nor is it a replacement for site-specific analysis and design.
The mapping consists of two main elements:
- Mapping of Bay shore features (levees, berms, roads, railroads, embankments, etc.) which could affect flooding and flood routing.
- Attributing Bay shore features with additional information including elevations, armoring, ownership (when known), among others.
SFEI delineated and characterized the Bay shore inland to 3 meters (10ft) above mean higher high water (MHHW) to accommodate observed extreme water levels and the commonly used range of future sea level rise (SLR) scenarios. Elevated Bay shore features were mapped and classified as engineered levees, berms, embankments, transportation structures, wetlands, natural shoreline, channel openings, or water control structures. Mapped features were also attributed with elevation (vertical accuracy of <5cm reported in 30 meter (100ft) segments from LiDAR derived digital elevation models (DEMs), FEMA accreditation status, fortification (e.g., riprap, buttressing), frontage (e.g., whether a feature was fronted by a wetland or beach), ownership, and entity responsible for maintenance. Water control structures, ownership, and maintenance attributes were captured where data was available (not complete for entire dataset). The dataset was extensively reviewed and corrected by city, county, and natural resource agency staff in each county around the Bay. This report provides further description of the Bay shore inventory and methods used for developing the dataset. The result is a publicly accessible GIS spatial database.
Over the past 150 years, lower San Francisquito Creek and the adjacent baylands have been modified for the sake of land reclamation and flood control. This study focused on developing an understanding of the magnitude of habitat change since the mid-19th century through comparisons of key historical and contemporary landscape-scale habitat features, as well as several key landscape metrics that relate to ecological functions and landscape resilience. The major findings from the analyses conducted for this study are as follows:
• Historically, the San Francisquito Creek Baylands included a mosaic of habitat types, including an extensive tidal marsh plain with salt pannes and an expansive tidal channel network, a broad bay flat, and a relatively wide contiguous low-gradient tidal-terrestrial transition zone.
• Since the late 19th century, a combination of land reclamation and the inland migration of the shoreline has resulted in a 55% decrease in tidal marsh area, a 67% decrease in total tidal channel length, a 40% reduction in channel flat area, a 20% increase in bay flat area, and a 95% decrease in tidal-terrestrial transition zone length.
• Land reclamation has also resulted in the creation of new features that did not exist in the area historically including tidal lagoons, non-tidal open water features, and non-tidal wetlands.
The findings from this study provide insight into the drivers for and magnitude of habitat change within the San Francisquito Creek Baylands, and can therefore help inform climate-resilient approaches for regaining some of the lost landscape features and ecological functions. Specific management recommendations developed from the study findings are as follows:
• The dramatic decrease in tidal marsh area and associated tidal channel length since the mid-1800s make tidal marsh restoration a high priority. To make restored areas sustainable over the long-term, restoration should include reestablishing regular tidal inundation as well as reestablishing a connection with San Francisquito Creek and the delivery of freshwater and fine sediment. Restoration efforts should focus on large contiguous areas with minimal infrastructure and should ideally be done sometime over the next decade to ensure the restored areas will have a chance of surviving the sharp increase in the rate of sea level rise that is predicted to occur around 2030 (Goals Update 2015).
• Similarly, the dramatic decrease in the tidal-terrestrial transition zone makes it a high priority for any restoration vision for this area. The transition zone provides distinct ecological services and marsh migration space, and is in need of restoration throughout the South Bay. Since most of the upland land along the historical tidal-terrestrial transition zone is currently developed, near-term restoration efforts should focus on creating transition zone habitats on the bayside of flood risk management levees (Goals Update 2015).
• The landscape metrics used in this study (tidal habitat area, tidal channel length, and tidal-terrestrial interface length) can be used to help design resilient landscape restoration and adaptation strategies around the mouth of San Francisquito Creek. Specifically, the metrics can be used to assess the long-term ecological benefit associated with various processes-based restoration approaches (i.e., approaches that create habitat features and establish physical processes required for habitat resilience). Additional useful landscape metrics are being developed as part of the Resilient Silicon Valley project (see Robinson et al. 2015).
This report explores the potential for integrating ecological functions into flood risk management on lower Novato Creek. It presents an initial vision of how ecological elements could contribute to flood protection, based on a broad scale analysis and a one day workshop of local and regional experts. The Vision is not intended to be implemented as is, but rather adapted and applied through future projects and analysis. Other actions (e.g., floodwater detention basins) may also need to be implemented in the interim to meet flood risk objectives.
As sea level rise accelerates, our shores will be increasingly vulnerable to erosion. Particular concern centers around the potential loss of San Francisco Bay’s much-valued tidal marshes, which provide natural flood protection to our shorelines, habitat for native wildlife, and many other ecosystem services. Addressing this concern, this study is the first systematic analysis of the rates of marsh retreat and expansion over time for San Pablo Bay, located in the northern part of San Francisco Bay.
• Over the past two decades, more of the marshes in San Pablo Bay have expanded (35% by length) than retreated (6%).
• Some areas have been expanding for over 150 years.
• Some marsh edges that appear to be retreating are in fact expanding rapidly at rates of up to 8 m/yr.
• Marsh edge change may be a useful indicator of resilience, identifying favorable sites for marsh persistence.
• These data can provide a foundation for understanding drivers of marsh edge expansion and retreat such as wind direction, wave energy, watershed sediment supply, and mudflat shape.
• This understanding of system dynamics will help inform management decisions about marsh restoration and protection.
• This study provides a baseline and method for tracking marsh edge response to current and future conditions, particularly anticipated changes in sea level, wave energy, and sediment supply.
Recommended next steps:
• This pilot study for San Pablo Bay marshes should be extended to other marshes in San Francisco Bay.
• These initial marsh expansion and retreat findings should be further analyzed and interpreted to improve our understanding of system drivers and identify management responses.
• A program for repeated assessment should be developed to identify and track changes in shoreline position, a leading indicator of the likelihood marsh survival.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been transformed from the largest wetland system on the Pacific Coast of the United States to highly productive farmland and other uses embodying California’s water struggles. The Delta comprises the upper extent of the San Francisco Estuary and connects two-thirds of California via the watersheds that feed into it. It is central to the larger California landscape and associated ecosystems, which will continue to experience substantial modification in the future due to climate change and continued land and water use changes. Yet this vital ecological and economic link for California and the world has
been altered to the extent that it is no longer able to support needed ecological functions. Approximately 3% of the Delta’s historical tidal wetland extent remains wetland today; the Delta is now crisscrossed with agricultural ditches replacing the over 1,000 miles of branching tidal channels.
Imagining a healthy Delta ecosystem in the future and taking bold, concrete steps toward that future requires an understanding and vision of what a healthy ecosystem looks like. For a place as extensive, unique, and modified as the Delta, valuable knowledge can be acquired through the study of the past, investigating the Delta as it existed just prior to the substantial human modifications of the last 160 years. Though the Delta is irrevocably altered, this does not mean that the past is irrelevant. Underlying geologic and hydrologic processes still influence the landscape, and native species still ply the waters, soar through the air, and move across the land. Significant opportunities are available to strategically reconnect landscape components in ways that support ecosystem resilience to both present and future stressors.
For centuries humans have reduced and transformed Mediterranean-climate oak woodland and savanna ecosystems, making it difficult to establish credible baselines for ecosystem structure and composition that can guide ecological restoration efforts. We combined historical data sources, with particular attention to mid-1800s General Land Office witness tree records and maps and twentieth century air photos, to reconstruct 150 years of decline in extent and stand density of Valley oak (Quercus lobata Neé) woodlands and savannas in the Santa Clara Valley of central coastal California. Nineteenth century Valley oak woodlands here were far more extensive and densely stocked than early twentieth century air photos would suggest, although reconstructed basal areas (7.5 m2/ha) and densities (48.9 trees/ha) were not outside the modern range reported for this ecosystem type. Tree densities and size distribution varied across the landscape in relation to soil and topography, and trees in open savannas were systematically larger than those in denser woodlands. For the largest woodland stand, we estimated a 99% decline in population from the mid-1800s to the 1930s. Although most of the study area is now intensely developed, Valley oaks could be reintroduced in urban and residential areas as well as in surrounding rangelands at densities comparable to the native oak woodlands and savannas, thereby restoring aspects of ecologically and culturally significant ecosystems, including wildlife habitat and genetic connectivity within the landscape.