Multiple stressor effects on coral reef ecosystems.
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Global climate change has profound implications on species distributions and ecosystem functioning. In the coastal zone, ecological responses may be driven by various biogeochemical and physical environmental factors. Synergistic interactions can occur when the combined effects of stressors exceed their individual effects. The Red Sea, characterized by strong gradients in temperature, salinity, and nutrients along the latitudinal axis provides a unique opportunity to study ecological responses over a range of these environmental variables. Using multiple linear regression models integrating in situ, satellite and oceanographic data, we investigated the response of coral reef taxa to local stressors and recent climate variability. Taxa and functional groups responded to a combination of climate (temperature, salinity, air-sea heat fluxes, irradiance, wind speed), fishing pressure and biogeochemical (chlorophyll a and nutrients - phosphate, nitrate, nitrite) factors. The regression model for each species showed interactive effects of climate, fishing pressure and nutrient variables. The nature of the effects (antagonistic or synergistic) was dependent on the species and stressor pair. Variables consistently associated with the highest number of synergistic interactions included heat flux terms, temperature, and wind speed followed by fishing pressure. Hard corals and coralline algae abundance were sensitive to changing environmental conditions where synergistic interactions decreased their percentage cover. These synergistic interactions suggest that the negative effects of fishing pressure and eutrophication may exacerbate the impact of climate change on corals. A high number of interactions were also recorded for algae, however for this group, synergistic interactions increased algal abundance. This study is unique in applying regression analysis to multiple environmental variables simultaneously to understand stressor interactions in the field. The observed responses have important implications for understanding climate change impacts on marine ecosystems and whether managing local stressors, such as nutrient enrichment and fishing activities, may help mitigate global drivers of change. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.