Historical comparisons reveal altered competitive interactions in a guild of crustose coralline algae

As the ocean environment changes over time, a paucity of long-term data sets and historical comparisons limits the exploration of community dynamics over time in natural systems. Here, we used a long-term experimental data set to present evidence for a reversal of competitive dominance within a group of crustose coralline algae (CCA) from the 1980s to present time in the northeast Pacific Ocean. CCA are cosmopolitan species distributed globally, and dominant space holders in intertidal and subtidal systems. Competition experiments showed a markedly lower competitive ability of the previous competitively dominant species and a decreased response of competitive dynamics to grazer presence. Competitive networks obtained from survey data showed concordance between the 1980s and 2013, yet also revealed reductions in interaction strengths across the assemblage. We discuss the potential role of environmental change, including ocean acidification, in altered ecological dynamics in this system.

McCoy S. J. & Pfister C. A., in press. Historical comparisons reveal altered competitive interactions in a guild of crustose coralline algae. Ecology Letters. Article (subscription required).

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