A decade of climate change experiments on marine organisms: procedures, patterns and problems

The first decade of the new millennium saw a flurry of experiments to establish a mechanistic understanding of how climate change might transform the global biota, including marine organisms. However, the biophysical properties of the marine environment impose challenges to experiments which can weaken their inference space. To facilitate strengthening the experimental evidence for possible ecological consequences of climate change, we reviewed the physical, biological and procedural scope of 110 marine climate change experiments published between 2000 and 2009. We found that 65% of these experiments only tested a single climate change factor (warming or acidification), 54% targeted temperate organisms, 58% were restricted to a single species and 73% to benthic invertebrates. In addition, 49% of the reviewed experiments had issues with the experimental design, principally related to inappropriate replication of the main test-factors (temperature or pH), and only 11% included field assessments of processes or associated patterns. Guiding future research by this inventory of current strengths and weaknesses will expand the overall inference space of marine climate change experiments. Specifically, increased effort is required in five areas: (i) the combined effects of concurrent climate and non-climate stressors; (ii) responses of a broader range of species, particularly from tropical and polar regions as well as primary producers, pelagic invertebrates, and fish; (iii) species interactions and responses of species assemblages, (iv) reducing pseudo-replication in controlled experiments; and (v) increasing realism in experiments through broad-scale observations and field experiments. Attention in these areas will improve the generality and accuracy of our understanding of climate change as a driver of biological change in marine ecosystems.

Wernberg T., Smale D., & Thomsen M., in press. A decade of climate change experiments on marine organisms: procedures, patterns and problems. Global Change BiologyArticle (subscription required).


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