Abstract Background The combination of rising sea levels and increased likelihood of extreme storm events poses a major threat to our coastlines and as a result, many ecosystems recognized and valued for their important contribution to coastal defence face increased damage from erosion and flooding. Nevertheless, only recently have we begun to examine how plant species and communities, respond to, and recover from, the many disturbances associated with storm events. Scope We review how the threats posed by a combination of sea level rise and storms affects coastal sub-, inter- and supra-tidal plant communities. We consider ecophysiological impacts at the level of the individual plant, but also how ecological interactions at the community level, and responses at landscape scale, inform our understanding of how and why an increasing frequency and intensity of storm damage are vital to effective coastal management. While noting how research is centred on the impact of hurricanes in the US Gulf region, we take a global perspective and consider how ecosystems worldwide (e.g. seagrass, kelp forests, sand dunes, saltmarsh and mangroves) respond to storm damage and contribute to coastal defence. Conclusions The threats posed by storms to coastal plant communities are undoubtedly severe, but, beyond this obvious conclusion, we highlight four research priority areas. These call for studies focusing on (1) how storm disturbance affects plant reproduction and recruitment; (2) plant response to the multiple stressors associated with anthropogenic climate change and storm events; (3) the role of ecosystem-level interactions in dictating post-disturbance recovery; and (4) models and long-term monitoring to better predict where and how storms and other climate change-driven phenomena impact coastal ecosystems and services. In so doing, we argue how plant scientists must work with geomorphologists and environmental agencies to protect the unique biodiversity and pivotal contribution to coastal defence delivered by maritime plant communities.



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Annals of Botany





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School of Biological and Marine Sciences