Within intertidal communities, aerial exposure (emergence during the tidal cycle) generates strong vertical zonation patterns with distinct growth boundaries regulated by physiological and external stressors. Forecasted accelerations in sea-level rise (SLR) will shift the position of these critical boundaries in ways we cannot yet fully predict, but landward migration will be impaired by coastal development, amplifying the importance of foundation speciesa ability to maintain their position relative to rising sea levels via vertical growth. Here we show the effects of emergence on vertical oyster-reef growth by determining the conditions at which intertidal reefs thrive and the sharp boundaries where reefs fail, which shift with changes in sea level. We found that oyster reef growth is unimodal relative to emergence, with greatest growth rates occurring between 20-40% exposure, and zero-growth boundaries at 10% and 55% exposures. Notably, along the lower growth boundary (10%), increased rates of SLR would outpace reef accretion, thereby reducing the depth range of substrate suitable for reef maintenance and formation, and exacerbating habitat loss along developed shorelines. Our results identify where, within intertidal areas, constructed or natural oyster reefs will persist and function best as green infrastructure to enhance coastal resiliency under conditions of accelerating SLR.
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