Community-level effects of rapid experimental warming and consumer loss outweigh effects of rapid ocean acidification

Climate change and consumer loss simultaneously affect marine ecosystems, but we have limited understanding of the relative importance of these factors and the interactions between them. Moreover, effects of environmental change are mediated by organism traits or life histories, which determine their sensitivity. Yet, trait-based analyses have rarely been used to understand the effects of climate change, especially in the marine environment. Here we used a five-week mesocosm experiment to assess the single and interactive effects of 1) rapid ocean warming, 2) rapid ocean acidification, and 3) simulated consumer loss, on the diversity and composition of macrofauna communities in eelgrass Zostera marina beds. Experimental warming (ambient versus + 3.2°C) and loss of a key consumer (the omnivorous crustacean, Gammarus locusta) both increased macrofauna richness and abundance, and altered overall species trait distributions and life history composition. Warming and consumer-loss favored poorly defended epifaunal crustaceans (tube-building amphipods), and species that brood their offspring. We suggest these organisms were favored because warming and consumer-loss caused increased metabolism, food supply and, potentially, settling substrate, and lowered predation pressure from the omnivorous G. locusta. Importantly, we found no single, or interactive, effects of the rapid ocean acidification (ambient versus −0.35 pH units). We suggest this result reflects natural variability in the native habitat and, potentially, the short duration of the experiment: organisms in these communities routinely experience rapid diurnal pH fluctuations that exceed the mean ocean acidification predicted for the coming century (and used in our experiments). In summary, our study indicates that macrofauna in shallow vegetated ecosystems will be significantly more affected by rapid warming and consumer diversity loss than by rapid ocean acidification.

Eklöf J. S., Havenhand J. N., Alsterberg C. & Gamfeldt L., in press. Community-level effects of rapid experimental warming and consumer loss outweigh effects of rapid ocean acidification. Oikos. Article (subscription required).

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