Ocean acidification and rising temperatures may increase biofilm primary productivity but decrease grazer consumption

Climate change may cause ecosystems to become trophically restructured as a result of primary producers and consumers responding differently to increasing CO2 and temperature. This study used an integrative approach using a controlled microcosm experiment to investigate the combined effects of CO2 and temperature on key components of the intertidal system in the UK, biofilms and their consumers (Littorina littorea). In addition, to identify whether pre-exposure to experimental conditions can alter experimental outcomes we explicitly tested for differential effects on L. littorea pre-exposed to experimental conditions for two weeks and five months. In contrast to predictions based on metabolic theory, the combination of elevated temperature and CO2 over a five-week period caused a decrease in the amount of primary productivity consumed by grazers, while the abundance of biofilms increased. However, long-term pre-exposure to experimental conditions (five months) altered this effect, with grazing rates in these animals being greater than in animals exposed only for two weeks. We suggest that the structure of future ecosystems may not be predictable using short-term laboratory experiments alone owing to potentially confounding effects of exposure time and effects of being held in an artificial environment over prolonged time periods. A combination of laboratory (physiology responses) and large, long-term experiments (ecosystem responses) may therefore be necessary to adequately predict the complex and interactive effects of climate change as organisms may acclimate to conditions over the longer term.

Russell B. D., Connell S. D., Findlay H. S., Tait K., Widdicombe S. & Mieszkowska N., 2013. Ocean acidification and rising temperatures may increase biofilm primary productivity but decrease grazer consumption. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 368(1627): 20120438. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0438. Article (subscription required).

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