Multiple abiotic changes and species interactions mediate responses to climate change on rocky shores (PhD thesis)

Anthropogenic climate change poses a serious threat to biodiversity. Accurate predictions of the ecological consequences of future abiotic change will require a broad perspective that takes into account multiple climate variables, species-specific responses, and intra- and interspecific dynamics. I addressed these issues in the context of a marine rocky intertidal community to determine how abiotic and biotic factors can mediate the effects of climate change. I began with two studies on the organismal-level effects of multiple abiotic variables. In the first study, I found that acute exposure to low salinity reduced the survival of littorine snails facing thermal stress, but that ocean acidification (OA) had no such effect. In a second study, I showed that sustained exposure to increased temperature and OA had positive and additive effects on the growth and feeding of the purple ochre sea star. These findings demonstrate that studies of multiple climate variables will be important not only to identify additive and non-additive effects, but also to determine which climate variables will be detrimental for a given species. Next, I measured how species-specific responses to climate change can alter species interactions. By quantifying the effects of body size on the feeding behaviours of sea stars preying on mussels, I demonstrated that climate-driven changes in body size can have profound impacts on the strength of this interaction. Finally, I investigated how population-level responses to multiple abiotic variables can be affected by the presence of an interacting species. I built a predator-prey model that simulates the ecologically important interaction between the purple ochre sea star and its preferred prey, mussels. Using empirical estimates of sea star and mussel responses to increased temperature and OA, I simulated their interaction under various climate scenarios. I found that predation exacerbated the effects of climate change on mussel populations, and that climate change increased the strength of the sea star-mussel interaction. My work demonstrates that the effects of climate change will likely be mediated by a combination of biotic and abiotic factors, and that these factors should be considered when making predictions about the ecological consequences of climate change.

Gooding R. A., 2013. Multiple abiotic changes and species interactions mediate responses to climate change on rocky shores. PhD thesis, The University of British Columbia, 179 p. Thesis.

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