Response of marine copepods to a changing tropical environment: winners, losers and implications

Background. Climate change concurrent with anthropogenic disturbances can initiate serial changes that reverberate up the food chain with repercussions for fisheries. To date, there is no information available concerning the combined effects of global warming and human impacts on tropical marine food webs. While temperate copepods respond differently to warming and environmental stressors, the extent to which tropical copepods can adapt to rising temperature of already warm waters remains unknown. We hypothesize that sea warming and other anthropogenic disturbances over the long term will have the greatest impact on the copepod community in nearshore waters where their effects are accentuated, and therefore vulnerable and resilient species could be identified.

Methods. Zooplankton samples were collected during two time periods (1985–86 and 2014–15) interposed by marked anthropogenic disturbances, and at the same five stations located progressively from inshore to offshore in Klang Strait, Malaysia, following the asymmetrical before-after-control-impact (BACI) design. Copepods were identified to species, and results were interpreted by univariate (ANOVA) and multivariate (PERMANOVA, PCO) analyses of the computed species abundance and diversity measures.

Results. Copepod total abundance was not significantly different among stations but higher after disturbance than before disturbance. However, changes in the abundance of particular species and the community structure between time periods were dramatic. Coastal large-bodied calanoid species (e.g., Acartia spinicauda, Calanopia thompsoni, Pseudodiaptomus bowmani and Tortanus forcipatus) were the most vulnerable group to disturbance. This however favored the opportunistic species (e.g., Oithona simplex, O. attenuata, Hemicyclops sp., Pseudomacrochiron sp. and Microsetella norvegica). Small-bodied copepods (e.g., Paracalanus sp., Parvocalanus crassirostris and Euterpina acutifrons) were unaffected. Centropages tenuiremis was likely an introduced species. There was no significant loss in species richness of copepods despite the dramatic changes in community structure.

Discussion. Sea warming and other human-induced effects such as eutrophication, acidification and coastal habitat degradation are likely the main factors that have altered copepod community structure. The large-bodied estuarine and coastal calanoid copepods are surmised to be vulnerable to eutrophication and hypoxia, while both resilient and opportunistic species are largely unaffected by, or adaptable to, degraded coastal environments and observed sea surface temperature (SST) rise. It is forecasted that SST rise with unmitigated anthropogenic impacts will further reduce large-bodied copepod species the favoured food for fish larvae with dire consequences for coastal fish production.

Chew L. L. & Chong V. C., 2016. Response of marine copepods to a changing tropical environment: winners, losers and implications. PeerJ 4:e2052. Article.

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