Meta-analysis reveals variance in tolerance to climate change across marine trophic levels


  • First meta-analysis to determine climate change impacts on marine trophic levels
  • Extensive compilations of results from 1278 experiments, spanning 236 species and 18 phyla
  • Multi-level meta-analytic approach was used to deal with data non-independency.
  • Herbivore was the most sensitive level to climate change.
  • Higher trophic levels show stronger tolerance to climatic stressor.


Marine ecosystems are currently facing a variety of anthropogenic perturbations, including climate change. Trophic differences in response to climate change may disrupt ecological interactions and thereby threaten marine ecosystem function. Yet, we still do not have a comprehensive understanding of how different trophic levels respond to climate change stressors in marine ecosystems. By including 1278 experiments, comprising 236 different marine species from 18 different phyla in a meta-analysis of studies measuring the direct effect of ocean acidification and ocean warming on marine organisms, we found that higher trophic level species display greater tolerance to ocean acidification but greater sensitivity to warming. In contrast, marine herbivores were the most vulnerable trophic level to both acidification and warming. Such imbalances in the community and a general reduction of biodiversity and biomass in lower trophic levels can significantly disrupt the system and could drive negative bottom-up effects. In conclusion, with ocean acidification and elevated temperatures, there is an alarming risk that trophic disparity may disrupt species interactions, and thereby drive community destabilization under ocean climate change.

Hu N., Bourdeau P. E., Harlos C., Liu Y. & Hollander J., 2022. Meta-analysis reveals variance in tolerance to climate change across marine trophic levels. Science of the Total Environment 827: 154244. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154244. Article.

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