Although human activity is considered to be a major driving force affecting the distribution and dynamics of Mediterranean ecosystems, the full consequences of projected climate variability and relative sea-level changes on fragile coastal ecosystems for the next century are still unknown. It is unclear how these waterfront ecosystems can be sustained, as well as the services they provide, when relative sea-level rise and global warming are expected to exert even greater pressures in the near future (drought, habitat degradation and accelerated shoreline retreat). Haifa Bay, northern Israel, has recorded a landward sea invasion, with a maximum sea penetration 4,000 years ago, during an important period of urban development and climate instability. Here, we examine the cumulative pressure of climate shifts and relative sea-level changes in order to investigate the patterns and mechanisms behind forest replacement by an open-steppe. We provide a first comprehensive and integrative study for the southern Levant that shows that (i) human impact, through urbanization, has been the main driver behind ecological erosion in the past 4,000 years; (ii) climate pressures have reinforced this impact; and (iii) local coastal changes have played a decisive role in eroding ecosystem resilience. These three parameters, which have closely interacted during the last 4,000 years in Haifa Bay, clearly indicate that for an efficient management of the coastal habitats, anthropogenic pressures linked to urban development must be reduced in order to mitigate the predicted effects of Global Change.
ASJC Scopus subject areas