Ocean warming and species range shifts affect rates of ecosystem functioning by altering consumer-resource interactions

Abby R Gilson, Dan A Smale, Nessa O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
366 Downloads (Pure)


Recent warming trends have driven widespread changes in the performance and distribution of species in many regions, with consequent shifts in assemblage structure and ecosystem functioning. However, as responses to warming vary across species and regions, novel communities are emerging, particularly where warm-affinity range-expanding species have rapidly colonised communities still dominated by cold-affinity species. Such community reconfiguration may alter core ecosystem processes, such as productivity or nutrient cycling, yet it remains unclear whether novel communities function similarly to those they have replaced, and how continued warming will alter functioning in the near future. Using simplified kelp forest communities as a model system, we compared rates of respiration, consumption and secondary productivity between current cold-affinity and future warm-affinity kelp assemblages under both present-day temperatures and near future warming in a series of mesocosm experiments. Overall, respiration rates of gastropods and amphipods increased with warming but did not differ between cold and warm affinity kelp assemblages. Consumption rates of three consumers (urchin, gastropod and amphipod) differed between kelp assemblages but only amphipod consumption rates increased with warming. A diet derived from warm-affinity kelp assemblages led to a decrease in growth and biomass of urchins, whereas the response of other consumers was variable depending on temperature treatment. These results suggest that climate-driven changes in assemblage structure of primary producers will alter per capita rates of ecosystem functioning, and that specific responses may vary in complex and unpredictable ways, with some mediated by warming more than others. Understanding how differences in life history and functional traits of dominant species will affect ecological interactions and, in turn, important ecosystem processes is crucial to understanding the wider implications of climate-driven community reconfiguration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e03341
Early online date11 Mar 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 11 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


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