This chapter examines the impacts of climate change on the natural coastal ecosystems in the North Sea region. These comprise sandy shores and dunes and salt marshes in estuaries and along the coast. The chapter starts by describing the characteristic geomorphological features of these systems and the importance of sediment transport. Consideration is then given to the role of bioengineering organisms in feedback relationships with substrate, how changes in physical conditions such as embankments affect coastal systems, and the effects of livestock. The effects of climate change—principally accelerated sea-level rise, and changes in the wind climate, temperature and precipitation—on these factors affecting coastal ecosystems are then discussed. Although the focus of this chapter is on the interaction of abiotic conditions and the vegetation, the potential impacts of climate change on the distribution of plant species and on birds breeding in salt marshes is also addressed. Climate impacts on birds, mammals and fish species are covered in other chapters.
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