Examining the ecosystem service and social well-being contributions of beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and the implications for integrated coastal planning along the southeastern shoreline of Lake Huron, Canada
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Beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) is a key component in maintaining the stability of the prominent beach-dune ecosystems of the Lake Huron shoreline, with benefits to dependent species (e.g., piping plover) and those living along or visiting the shoreline (e.g., through the maintenance of public and private infrastructure for beach-front restaurants, cottages). The capacity of beach-dune ecosystems to respond favorably to climate change conditions also depend on the maintenance of intact beach grass populations. However, the human-environment interactions that determine how people perceive and respond to beach grass are poorly understood, despite the importance of beach grass to the southeastern shoreline of Lake Huron (and throughout the Great Lakes basin). The goal of my research is to enhance opportunities for integrated coastal planning along the southeastern shoreline of Lake Huron by assessing the underlying drivers of change with regard to beach grass, and understanding how coastal resource users (e.g., property owners) perceive the benefits beach grasses provide (i.e., ecosystem services). The objectives of this research are: (1) examine how beach grass along the shoreline is changing and reasons for those changes from the perspective of property owners and shoreline visitors; (2) understand how perceptions of beach grass affect property owners and shoreline visitors’ behaviours and actions toward beach grass; (3) identify ecosystem services related to beach/dune grasses of value to property owners and visitors along the shoreline; (4) establish how beach grass changes are linked to the well-being (e.g., material, subjective and relational) from the perspective of property owners and shoreline visitors; and (5) generate insights to support and enhance current coastal planning efforts along the southeastern shoreline of Lake Huron. Several methods of data collection and analysis were used in this research, including a review of the literature, a structured survey that was completed online and on the phone by participants (n=123), and semi-structured interviews with key informants (n=4) (e.g., conservation authority and non-governmental organization representatives). The structured survey was limited to property owners and beach visitors of the southeastern shoreline of Lake Huron and was designed to identify how people perceive and understand ecosystem services related to beach grass with which they are familiar, how they perceive and interact with beach grass and the implications for their own well-being (i.e., material, relational or subjective), and to gain insights on how to better manage beach grass along the southeastern shoreline of Lake Huron. The semi-structured interviews conducted with key informants offered additional context in terms of understanding beach grass changes and shoreline management issues reported in the survey data, initiatives in place to address these issues, and what types of management and conservation initiatives are needed to better address these issues and improve the social well-being of shoreline community members. Several key findings emerge from this research. First, human-caused drivers of change greatly impact regulating, supporting, and cultural beach grass ecosystem services which impact all dimensions of social well-being in both positive and negative manners. Second, human actions that support or hinder the conservation and protection of beach grass are primarily driven by the importance placed on regulating and cultural ecosystem services as well as their knowledge of them. Third, mitigative measures of convenience, education, targeting other values and social influence have been found to affect the knowledge and importance of beach grass ecosystem services, and thus impact social well-being. Shoreline community members, such as many of the survey respondents, play an important role in the conservation and management of beach grass along the Lake Huron shoreline, and therefore, are a driving force in the creation of their own well-being. The results of this research will serve to enhance coastal action planning by demonstrating how including impacts of beach grass change on social well-being (e.g., material or subjective benefits) and the drivers behind the human-environment of the shoreline can facilitate the improvement of the safety and well-being of the Lake Huron shoreline communities.
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Charlotte Hings (2019). Examining the ecosystem service and social well-being contributions of beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and the implications for integrated coastal planning along the southeastern shoreline of Lake Huron, Canada. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15213