Posts Tagged 'BRcommunity'

Arctic sensitivity? Suitable habitat for benthic taxa is surprisingly robust to climate change

Arctic marine ecosystems are often assumed to be highly vulnerable to ongoing climate change, and are expected to undergo significant shifts in structure and function. Community shifts in benthic fauna are likely to result from changes in key physico-chemical drivers, such as ocean warming, but there is little ecological data on most Arctic species to support any specific predictions as to how vulnerable they are, or how future communities may be structured. We used a species distribution modeling approach (MaxEnt) to project changes over the 21st century in suitable habitat area for different species of benthic fauna by combining presence observations from the OBIS database with environmental data from a coupled climate-ocean model (SINMOD). Projected mean % habitat losses over taxonomic groups were small (0–11%), and no significant differences were found between Arctic, boreal, or Arcto-boreal groups, or between calcifying and non-calcifying groups. However, suitable habitat areas for 14 of 78 taxa were projected a change by over 20%, and several of these taxa are characteristic and/or habitat-forming fauna on some Arctic shelves, suggesting a potential for significant ecosystem impacts. These results highlight the weakness of general statements regarding vulnerability of taxa on biogeographic or presumed physiological grounds, and suggest that more basic biological data on Arctic taxa are needed for improved projections of ecosystem responses to climate change.

Continue reading ‘Arctic sensitivity? Suitable habitat for benthic taxa is surprisingly robust to climate change’

Scientists’ warning to humanity: microorganisms and climate change

In the Anthropocene, in which we now live, climate change is impacting most life on Earth. Microorganisms support the existence of all higher trophic life forms. To understand how humans and other life forms on Earth (including those we are yet to discover) can withstand anthropogenic climate change, it is vital to incorporate knowledge of the microbial ‘unseen majority’. We must learn not just how microorganisms affect climate change (including production and consumption of greenhouse gases) but also how they will be affected by climate change and other human activities. This Consensus Statement documents the central role and global importance of microorganisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on responses of microorganisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.

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Calcium carbonate alters the functional response of coastal sediments to eutrophication-induced acidification

Coastal ocean acidification research is dominated by laboratory-based studies that cannot necessarily predict real-world ecosystem response given its complexity. We enriched coastal sediments with increasing quantities of organic matter in the field to identify the effects of eutrophication-induced acidification on benthic structure and function, and assess whether biogenic calcium carbonate (CaCO3) would alter the response. Along the eutrophication gradient we observed declines in macrofauna biodiversity and impaired benthic net primary productivity and sediment nutrient cycling. CaCO3 addition did not alter the macrofauna community response, but significantly dampened negative effects on function (e.g. net autotrophy occurred at higher levels of organic matter enrichment in +CaCO3 treatments than −CaCO3 (1400 vs 950 g dw m−2)). By identifying the links between eutrophication, sediment biogeochemistry and benthic ecosystem structure and function in situ, our study represents a crucial step forward in understanding the ecological effects of coastal acidification and the role of biogenic CaCO3 in moderating responses.

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Acidification diminishes diatom silica production in the Southern Ocean

Diatoms, large bloom-forming marine microorganisms, build frustules out of silicate, which ballasts the cells and aids their export to the deep ocean. This unique physiology forges an important link between the marine silicon and carbon cycles. However, the effect of ocean acidification on the silicification of diatoms is unclear. Here we show that diatom silicification strongly diminishes with increased acidity in a natural Antarctic community. Analyses of single cells from within the community reveal that the effect of reduced pH on silicification differs among taxa, with several species having significantly reduced silica incorporation at CO2 levels equivalent to those projected for 2100. These findings suggest that, before the end of this century, ocean acidification may influence the carbon and silicon cycle by both altering the composition of the diatom assemblages and reducing cell ballasting, which will probably alter vertical flux of these elements to the deep ocean.

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Recent pace of change in human impact on the world’s ocean

Humans interact with the oceans in diverse and profound ways. The scope, magnitude, footprint and ultimate cumulative impacts of human activities can threaten ocean ecosystems and have changed over time, resulting in new challenges and threats to marine ecosystems. A fundamental gap in understanding how humanity is affecting the oceans is our limited knowledge about the pace of change in cumulative impact on ocean ecosystems from expanding human activities – and the patterns, locations and drivers of most significant change. To help address this, we combined high resolution, annual data on the intensity of 14 human stressors and their impact on 21 marine ecosystems over 11 years (2003–2013) to assess pace of change in cumulative impacts on global oceans, where and how much that pace differs across the ocean, and which stressors and their impacts contribute most to those changes. We found that most of the ocean (59%) is experiencing significantly increasing cumulative impact, in particular due to climate change but also from fishing, land-based pollution and shipping. Nearly all countries saw increases in cumulative impacts in their coastal waters, as did all ecosystems, with coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves at most risk. Mitigation of stressors most contributing to increases in overall cumulative impacts is urgently needed to sustain healthy oceans.

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The role of herbivores in a near future ocean: positive and negative effects of climate change on herbivore ecological function

Earth’s climate is characterised by abrupt change through its history, yet human induced climate change is warming and acidifying our oceans at unprecedented rates. Such alterations in the seawater’s chemical and physical properties are anticipated to disrupt a multitude of ecological processes leading to potential reductions in productivity and biodiversity of marine systems. Functional groups such as marine herbivores are renowned for meditating competition between benthic organisms, affecting the physical structure and primary production in marine systems, countervailing the deleterious effects of global and local disturbances. Within this context, it is important to not only understand how herbivorous species respond to climate change, but also how their overall functional role are affected and how this might have cascading effects on other species. In this thesis, I reveal that whilst populations of many species are forecast to collapse due to the effects of future climate, some herbivorous species may capitalize on environmental change and boost their densities by increasing the carrying capacity of the environment by actively modifying the habitat under an otherwise stressful condition. I also show that the modifications performed by herbivorous species trough the strengthening of positive interaction under ocean acidification can assist other species to densify, stimulating species coexistence and ecosystem function, and perhaps mitigate the deleterious effect of CO2 enrichment expected at population and community level. Therefore, under ocean warming the functional role of herbivores is eroded releasing opportunistic algae from trophic control which can potentially lead marine systems to undergo structural modification. I show that loss of this functional role, reduces the capacity of the system to control the expansion of opportunistic algae. The identification of the circumstances as to whether herbivores functional role in marine systems will strengthen or decrease provides insights into the impacts of ocean warming and acidification at local scale and their potential management.

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Functional loss in herbivores drives runaway expansion of weedy algae in a near-future ocean


• Elevated CO2 and warming increased productivity of turf algae.

• Elevated CO2 increased per capita feeding rates of gastropods.

• Ocean warming reduced grazer diversity, density, and biomass.

• As a result, ocean warming drove a fourfold expansion of weedy algal species.


The ability of a community to absorb environmental change without undergoing structural modification is a hallmark of ecological resistance. The recognition that species interactions can stabilize community processes has led to the idea that the effects of climate change may be less than what most considerations currently allow. We tested whether herbivory can compensate for the expansion of weedy algae triggered by CO2 enrichment and warming. Using a six-month mesocosm experiment, we show that increasing per capita herbivory by gastropods absorbs the boosted effects of CO2 enrichment on algal production in temperate systems of weak to moderate herbivory. However, under the combined effects of acidification and warming this compensatory effect was eroded by reducing the diversity, density and biomass of herbivores. This loss of functionality combined with boosted primary productivity drove a fourfold expansion of weedy algal species. Our results demonstrate capacity to buffer ecosystems against CO2 enrichment, but loss of this capacity through ocean warming either in isolation or combined with CO2, driving significant algal turf expansion. Identifying compensatory processes and the circumstances under which they prevail could potentially help manage the impacts of ocean warming and acidification, which are further amplified by local disturbances such as habitat loss and herbivore over-exploitation.

Continue reading ‘Functional loss in herbivores drives runaway expansion of weedy algae in a near-future ocean’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book