The stars are out: Predicting the effect of seawater freshening on the ecological impact of a sea star keystone predator

James W.E. Dickey, Ross N. Cuthbert, Sonia C. Morón Lugo, Isabel Casties, Jaimie T.A. Dick, Gregor T. Steffan, Elizabeta Briski

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Abstract

Predicting the myriad effects of climate change on ecological communities is a major challenge for scientists, and to date relatively few studies have focused on the effects of sea freshening on species interactions. In particular, changes in keystone species predatory effects could be pervasive. Here, we assess the consequences of decreasing salinity on the ecological impact exerted by a keystone predatory sea star, Asterias rubens. We quantified sea star functional responses (FRs; per capita predation as a function of prey density) under decreasing salinity treatments aligned with climate change projections (18ppt, 15ppt, 12ppt). Furthermore, we combined FRs with larval recruitment estimates, i.e. ecological “Impact Potential”, to act as an ecological indicator of predator population-level responses under this environmental change. Attack and maximum feeding rates of sea stars were reduced by decreasing salinities, with no instances of predation found at 12ppt. Given that decreasing salinities also reduced larval sea star recruitment, the overall Impact Potential of this keystone predator species was lessened by decreased salinity. Sea freshening projections by the end of this century could thus drive significant decreases in the effects of this keystone predator, with serious implications for the structuring and functioning of ecological communities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108293
JournalEcological Indicators
Volume132
Early online date15 Oct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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