Climate change is causing rising sea levels and increases the impact of extreme storm events. Because coastal dunes have the capacity to grow along with the rising sea, they are an important nature-based solution in coastal protection. Dune development results from close interactions between dune-building plant species and sand dynamics. Growth of marram grass is regulated by positive and negative feedbacks at different spatial scales, but also facilitated by sand amassed by sand couch and inhibited landwards by the further fixation of sand by plants of the dry succession series. A more in-depth understanding of the processes controlling spatial dynamics and interactions among ecosystem engineers is crucial to develop dunes as a nature-based solution for coastal protection.
This project will collect the needed quantitative data on the spatial dynamics of the two Belgian dune-building species Ammophila arenaria and Elytrigia juncea by means of an unprecedented field experiment and surveys. These data will then be used to further improve and parameterize an existing model to investigate dune resilience and resistance of the Belgian coast to storm events and sea level rise. This project will deliver vital insights into the mechanisms regulating coastal dune dynamics across the world, and contribute to the application of this ecosystem as a natural barrier against sea-level rise.