From individual to ecosystem: multi-stressor effects of acidification and warming on the physiological responses of coastal marine invertebrates

Climate change is directly impacting the services humans derive from the sea at an accelerated rate. Ocean warming and acidification (i.e., a decrease in ocean pH) are leading to modifications in population sizes and ecosystem functioning. The observed shifts in these higher order processes are a direct result of individuals’ responses (i.e., physiology, including metabolism, growth, calcification, and survival) occurring within communities. Natural variation in past environmental exposure experienced by individuals may lead to greater population resilience, or it may push individuals past physiological thresholds leading to increased sensitivity and vulnerability to climate change. Thus, we need to determine how individual-level physiological responses to climate change scale up to influence marine ecosystems. Rocky intertidal habitats are an ideal study system for evaluating the relationships between individual physiological responses, ecosystem functioning, and climate change. Tide pools possess unique thermal and pH environments and can be monitored under natural conditions or manipulated with field-experiments over daily and seasonal time scales, creating natural “experimental mesocosms”. In addition, many species within rocky intertidal habitats are exposed to environmental conditions close to their tolerance limits, increasing their potential vulnerability to climate change. In Chapter 1, by utilizing the unique thermal environments of tide pools, I showed that across small spatial scales (pools), thermal history influences thermal sensitivity of marine invertebrates for short-term time intervals (1-week and 1-day) and that this relationship differs seasonally and between species with differing traits, including mobility. This suggests that variability in thermal responses among individuals may allow for a natural buffer at a population level in response to climate change. Multiple stressors may affect individuals independently or interactively, amplifying or mitigating effects. Thus, to determine the impacts of climate change, in Chapter 2, I used a 6-month long field manipulation of ocean warming and acidification in tide pools. I examined the combined effects of warming and acidification on the shell structure (shell thickness and corrosion) and functional properties (shell strength) of the ecologically critical species, the Pacific blue mussel (Mytilus trossulus). Acidification led to thinner, weaker, and more corroded shells whereas combined warming and acidification resulted in an increase in shell strength. My results suggest that to some degree, warming may mitigate the negative impacts of acidification on this mollusk species. Lastly, in Chapter 3, I characterize how warming and acidification, individually and interactively, impact net ecosystem calcification and the individual and population-level mechanisms driving impacts on net ecosystem calcification. Net ecosystem calcification tended to increase during the day and decrease at night; however, addition of CO2 during the hottest months led to decreased net ecosystem calcification and increased dissolution during both day and night. I found that individual mussel metabolic rates increased significantly in the presence of elevated CO2 and increased daily maximum of pool temperatures. Through this individual-level pathway, pH and temperature had a strong impact on the metabolic rates of individuals ultimately resulting in changes in net ecosystem calcification. On the other hand, greater mussel abundance was associated with increased net ecosystem calcification. Yet, with the addition of CO2, calcification decreased even in pools with the highest abundance of mussels, indicating that there are other pathways by which changes in pH can drive alterations in net ecosystem calcification. My dissertation reveals how species’ traits and natural thermal variation from short-term to seasonal time scales influence metabolic sensitivity to future warming among individuals (Ch. 1), independent climate stressors can negatively impact shellfish in situ, whereas the combined interactive effects between multiple stressors can lead to mitigation of the negative impacts of a single stressor alone (Ch. 2), and that ecosystem-level consequences of climate change are mediated by the abundance of dominant calcifiers and that this effect is dependent on the magnitude of acidification and warming (Ch. 3).

Rangel R. E., 2023. From individual to ecosystem: multi-stressor effects of acidification and warming on the physiological responses of coastal marine invertebrates. MSc thesis, UC Irvine. Thesis (under embargo).

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