Marine ecosystems show resilience to climate disturbance

February 1, 2017
Fish congregating on the Kitutia Reef. Credit: Jennifer O'Leary

Climate-driven disturbances are having profound impacts on coastal ecosystems, with many crucial habitat-forming species in sharp decline. However, among these degraded biomes, examples of resilience are emerging.

Writing in BioScience, Jennifer O'Leary, a California Sea Grant Marine Biologist based at Polytechnic State University, and her colleagues describe these recoveries and highlight the possible implications for ecosystem-sparing management. To gain insight into disturbed coastal habitats, the authors surveyed 97 marine experts about their observations of climate-induced perturbations, including extreme storms, temperature changes, and ocean acidification. Eighty percent of those who had witnessed climate extremes also identified evidence of habitat resistance or rapid recovery.

According to O'Leary and her colleagues, the survey results indicated that "bright spots of are surprisingly common across six major ." In some cases, resilience was marked by striking recoveries. In one bleaching event in Western Australia, up to 90% of live coral was lost as a result of severe bleaching. Despite reaching a low of 9% unbleached area, the healthy reef surface recovered to 44% within 12 years.

According to the survey of experts, the factors enabling resiliency were varied, but areas of remnant tridimensional habitat and high connectivity were the most frequently cited contributors. Sound management practices were also considered important, particularly the control of additional human stressors.

The authors hope that by elucidating the causes of resilience, they can "uncover local conditions and processes that may allow ecosystems to maintain their structure and function and continue providing ecosystem services to humans."

They argue that if "are spaced appropriately given the reproductive output and dispersal potential of species," it may be possible to mitigate the damage caused by climate disturbance events.

Nevertheless, O'Leary and her colleagues caution that local bright spots do "not contradict the overwhelming evidence that climatic impacts present a major stressor to ," although they do provide "optimism that we can indeed identify and manage for conditions that facilitate to climatic stress."

Explore further: Protection of our marine life requires more resilience

Related Stories

Protection of our marine life requires more resilience

September 14, 2015

Management of the world's marine habitats needs to look beyond only Marine Protected Areas and put achieving ecosystem resilience at the top of the agenda, according to research by an international group of scientists led ...

Promoting resilient coral reefs in a changing climate

November 30, 2016

The third and longest global coral bleaching event on record started in 2014 and continues to damage reefs around the globe. While it's true coral reef ecosystems have been knocked down, they have certainly not been knocked ...

Heat wave offers glimpse into climate change

August 25, 2014

(Phys.org) —An unprecedented marine heat wave that swept the Southeast Indian Ocean in 2011 has given FIU scientists a glimpse into the future of climate change.

Recommended for you

The world needs to rethink the value of water

November 23, 2017

Research led by Oxford University highlights the accelerating pressure on measuring, monitoring and managing water locally and globally. A new four-part framework is proposed to value water for sustainable development to ...

'Lost' 99% of ocean microplastics to be identified with dye?

November 23, 2017

The smallest microplastics in our oceans – which go largely undetected and are potentially harmful – could be more effectively identified using an innovative and inexpensive new method, developed by researchers at the ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

geokstr
1 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2017
If the environment changes and some species can't cope, it just opens up opportunities for new species and old ones that were struggling, to thrive. It's called "evolution", Progs, Look it up - I'm pretty sure there's been some literature done on it.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.