Stuart-Smith, RD and Barrett, NS and Stevenson, DG and Edgar, GJ, Stability in temperate reef communities over a decadal time scale despite concurrent ocean warming, Global Change Biology, 16, (1) pp. 122-134. ISSN 1365-2486 (2010) [Refereed Article]
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Despite increasing scientific and public concerns on the potential impacts of global ocean warming on marine biodiversity, very few empirical data on community-level responses to rising water temperatures are available other than for coral reefs. This study describes changes in temperate subtidal reef communities over decadal and regional scales in a location that has undergone considerable warming in recent decades and is forecast to be a 'hotspot' for future warming.
Plant and animal communities at 136 rocky reef sites around Tasmania (south-east Australia) were censused between 1992 and 1995, and again in 2006 and 2007. Despite evidence of major ecological changes before the period of study, reef communities appeared to remain relatively stable over the past decade. Multivariate analyses and univariate metrics of biotic communities revealed few changes with time, although some species-level responses could be interpreted as symptomatic of ocean warming. These included fishes detected in Tasmania only in recent surveys and several species with warmer water affinities that appeared to extend their distributions further south. The most statistically significant changes observed in species abundances, however, were not related to their biogeographical affinities. The majority of species with changing abundance possessed lower to mid-range abundances rather than being common, raising questions for biodiversity monitoring and management. We suggest that our study encompassed a relatively stable period following more abrupt change, and that community responses to ocean warming may follow nonlinear, step-like trajectories.
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