Scaling up: predicting the impacts of climate change on seagrass ecosystems

Since Susan Williams and I started our scientific careers in the mid-1970s, seagrass science has been transformed from a largely descriptive field to an increasingly quantitative and predictive endeavor that requires a mechanistic understanding of environmental influence on metabolic networks that control energy assimilation, growth, and reproduction. Although the potential impacts of environment on gene products are myriad, important phenotypic responses are often regulated by a few key points in metabolic networks where externally supplied resources or physiological substrates limit reaction kinetics. Environmental resources commonly limiting seagrass productivity, survival, and growth include light, temperature, and CO2 availability that control carbon assimilation and sucrose formation, and regulate stress responses to environmental change. Here I present a systems approach to quantify the responses of seagrasses to shifts in environmental factors that control fundamental physiological processes and whole plant performance in the context of a changing climate. This review shows that our ability to understand the past and predict the future trajectory of seagrass-based ecosystems can benefit from a mechanistic understanding of the responses of these remarkable plants to the simultaneous impacts of ocean acidification, climate warming, and eutrophication that are altering ecosystem function across the globe.

Zimmerman R. C., in press. Scaling up: predicting the impacts of climate change on seagrass ecosystems. Estuaries and Coasts. Article (subscription required).

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