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Non-Linear Interactions Determine the Impact of Sea-Level Rise on Estuarine Benthic Biodiversity and Ecosystem Processes

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      Sea-level rise induced by climate change may have significant impacts on the ecosystem functions and ecosystem services provided by intertidal sediment ecosystems. Accelerated sea-level rise is expected to lead to steeper beach slopes, coarser particle sizes and increased wave exposure, with consequent impacts on intertidal ecosystems. We examined the relationships between abundance, biomass, and community metabolism of benthic fauna with beach slope, particle size and exposure, using samples across a range of conditions from three different locations in the UK, to determine the significance of sediment particle size beach slope and wave exposure in affecting benthic fauna and ecosystem function in different ecological contexts. Our results show that abundance, biomass and oxygen consumption of intertidal macrofauna and meiofauna are affected significantly by interactions among sediment particle size, beach slope and wave exposure. For macrofauna on less sloping beaches, the effect of these physical constraints is mediated by the local context, although for meiofauna and for macrofauna on intermediate and steeper beaches, the effects of physical constraints dominate. Steeper beach slopes, coarser particle sizes and increased wave exposure generally result in decreases in abundance, biomass and oxygen consumption, but these relationships are complex and non-linear. Sea-level rise is likely to lead to changes in ecosystem structure with generally negative impacts on ecosystem functions and ecosystem services. However, the impacts of sea-level rise will also be affected by local ecological context, especially for less sloping beaches.

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        Evidence is mounting that extinctions are altering key processes important to the productivity and sustainability of Earth's ecosystems. Further species loss will accelerate change in ecosystem processes, but it is unclear how these effects compare to the direct effects of other forms of environmental change that are both driving diversity loss and altering ecosystem function. Here we use a suite of meta-analyses of published data to show that the effects of species loss on productivity and decomposition--two processes important in all ecosystems--are of comparable magnitude to the effects of many other global environmental changes. In experiments, intermediate levels of species loss (21-40%) reduced plant production by 5-10%, comparable to previously documented effects of ultraviolet radiation and climate warming. Higher levels of extinction (41-60%) had effects rivalling those of ozone, acidification, elevated CO(2) and nutrient pollution. At intermediate levels, species loss generally had equal or greater effects on decomposition than did elevated CO(2) and nitrogen addition. The identity of species lost also had a large effect on changes in productivity and decomposition, generating a wide range of plausible outcomes for extinction. Despite the need for more studies on interactive effects of diversity loss and environmental changes, our analyses clearly show that the ecosystem consequences of local species loss are as quantitatively significant as the direct effects of several global change stressors that have mobilized major international concern and remediation efforts.
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          Since 1951, the biomass of macrozooplankton in waters off southern California has decreased by 80 percent. During the same period, the surface layer warmed-by more than 1.5 degrees C in some places-and the temperature difference across the thermocline increased. Increased stratification resulted in less lifting of the thermocline by wind-driven upwelling. A shallower source of upwelled waters provided less inorganic nutrient for new biological production and hence supported a smaller zooplankton population. Continued warming could lead to further decline of zooplankton.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Environment Department, University of York, York, United Kingdom
            [2 ]School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
            University College Dublin, Ireland
            Author notes

            Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

            Conceived and designed the experiments: TY DR PCLW. Performed the experiments: TY. Analyzed the data: TY. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: TY. Wrote the paper: TY DR PCLW.

            Role: Editor
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            8 July 2013
            : 8
            : 7
            23861863 3704648 PONE-D-12-33035 10.1371/journal.pone.0068160

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            Pages: 8
            The work was supported by the University of York. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript
            Research Article
            Ecosystem Functioning
            Coastal Ecology
            Global Change Ecology
            Marine Biology
            Coastal Ecology
            Marine Ecology
            Earth Sciences
            Atmospheric Science
            Climate Change



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