Research ArticleMarine Ecology

Herbivory enables marine communities to resist warming

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Science Advances  11 Oct 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 10, e1701349
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701349

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Abstract

Climate change can influence ecosystems via both direct effects on individual organisms and indirect effects mediated by species interactions. However, we understand little about how these changes will ripple through ecosystems or whether there are particular ecological characteristics that might make ecosystems more susceptible—or more resistant—to warming. By combining in situ experimental warming with herbivore manipulations in a natural rocky intertidal community for over 16 months, we show that herbivory regulates the capacity of marine communities to resist warming. We found that limpet herbivores helped to preserve trophic and competitive interactions under experimental warming, dampening the impact of warming on overall community composition. The presence of limpets facilitated the survival of the main habitat modifier (barnacles) under warmer conditions, which, in turn, facilitated the presence of a consumer guild. When limpets were removed, environmental warming altered trophic, competitive, and facilitative interactions, with cascading impacts on community succession and stability. We conclude that conserving trophic structure and the integrity of interaction networks is vitally important as Earth continues to warm.

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