Abalone populations are most sensitive to environmental stress effects on adult individuals

Marine organisms are exposed to stressors associated with climate change throughout their life cycle, but a majority of studies focus on responses in single life stages, typically early ones. Here, we examined how negative impacts from stressors associated with climate change, ocean acidification, and pollution can act across multiple life stages to influence long-term population dynamics and decrease resilience to mass mortality events. We used a continuous-size-structured density-dependent model for abalone (Haliotis spp.), calcifying mollusks that support valuable fisheries, to explore the sensitivity of stock abundance and annual catch to potential changes in growth, survival, and fecundity across the organism’s lifespan. Our model predicts that decreased recruitment from lowered fertilization success or larval survival has small negative impacts on the population, and that stock size and fishery performance are much more sensitive to changes in parameters that affect the size or survival of adults. Sensitivity to impacts on subadults and juveniles is also important for the population, though less so than for adults. Importantly, likelihood of recovery following mortality events showed more pronounced sensitivity to most possible parameter impacts, greater than the effects on equilibrium density or catch. Our results suggest that future experiments on environmental stressors should focus on multiple life stages to capture effects on population structure and dynamics, particularly for species with size-dependent fecundity.

Aalto E. A., Barry J. P., Boch C. A., Litvin S. Y., Micheli F., Woodson C. B. & De Leo G. A., 2020. Abalone populations are most sensitive to environmental stress effects on adult individuals. Marine Ecology Progress Series 643:75-85. Article (subscription required).


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