Southeast
Jennifer Hilburn via WABE

GA - Hog invasions leave coast vulnerable to climate change

This coverage is made possible through a partnership with Grist, a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

Feral hogs are a persistent nuisance on the Georgia coast. For decades, wildlife managers have tried to keep them from destroying fragile sea turtle nests. And now, new research shows hogs are making coastal marshes more vulnerable to climate change.

Those vast marshes, which stretch all along Georgia’s coast and barrier islands, aren’t just pretty landscapes for boating and birdwatching. They’re an essential line of defense.

The marshes, and especially their tenacious grasses, help prevent coastal erosion and slow down storms. And they’re incredibly resistant to drought.
That is, as long as they’ve got help from a particular kind of mollusk, called ribbed mussels.

“They’re sort of like an armor that protects marshes from-from the big climate effects,” said Marc Hensel with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. He’s spent years doing research on Sapelo Island.

Clusters of ribbed mussels help marsh grasses retain moisture so they can withstand drought, and the marsh can bounce back afterward. Areas of marsh grass that survive drought thanks to the mussels serve as nuclei for regrowth throughout the marsh.

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