The tropicalization of temperate marine ecosystems: climate-mediated changes in herbivory and community phase shifts

Adriana Vergés, Peter D. Steinberg, Mark E. Hay, Alistair G. B. Poore, Alexandra H. Campbell, Enric Ballesteros, Kenneth L. Heck, David J. Booth, Melinda A. Coleman, David A. Feary, Will Figueira, Tim Langlois, Ezequiel M. Marzinelli, Toni Mizerek, Peter J. Mumby, Yohei Nakamura, Moninya Roughan, Erik van Sebille, Alex Sen Gupta, Dan A. Smale, Fiona Tomas, Thomas Wernberg, Shaun K. Wilson

Abstract

Climate-driven changes in biotic interactions can profoundly alter ecological communities, particularly when they impact foundation species. In marine systems, changes in herbivory and the consequent loss of dominant habitat forming species can result in dramatic community phase shifts, such as from coral to macroalgal dominance when tropical fish herbivory decreases, and from algal forests to ‘barrens’ when temperate urchin grazing increases. Here, we propose a novel phase-shift away from macroalgal dominance caused by tropical herbivores extending their range into temperate regions. We argue that this phase shift is facilitated by poleward-flowing boundary currents that are creating ocean warming hotspots around the globe, enabling the range expansion of tropical species and increasing their grazing rates in temperate areas. Overgrazing of temperate macroalgae by tropical herbivorous fishes has already occurred in Japan and the Mediterranean. Emerging evidence suggests similar phenomena are occurring in other temperate regions, with increasing occurrence of tropical fishes on temperate reefs.

  • Received April 13, 2014.
  • Accepted June 13, 2014.
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