Poleward range extensions by warm-adapted sea urchins are switching temperate marine ecosystems from kelp-dominated to barren-dominated systems that favour the establishment of range-extending tropical fishes. Yet, such tropicalization may be buffered by ocean acidification, which reduces urchin grazing performance and the urchin barrens that tropical range-extending fishes prefer. Using ecosystems experiencing natural warming and acidification, we show that ocean acidification could buffer warming-facilitated tropicalization by reducing urchin populations (by 87%) and inhibiting the formation of barrens. This buffering effect of CO2 enrichment was observed at natural CO2 vents that are associated with a shift from a barren-dominated to a turf-dominated state, which we found is less favourable to tropical fishes. Together, these observations suggest that ocean acidification may buffer the tropicalization effect of ocean warming against urchin barren formation via multiple processes (fewer urchins and barrens) and consequently slow the increasing rate of tropicalization of temperate fish communities.
Coni E. O. C., Nagelkerken I., Ferreira C. M., Connell S. D. & Booth D. J., in press. Ocean acidification may slow the pace of tropicalization of temperate fish communities. Nature Climate Change. Article.