Effects Of Climate Change On Global Seaweed Communities

Christopher D. G. Harley, Kathryn M. Anderson, Kyle W. Demes, Jennifer P. Jorve, Rebecca L. Kordas, Theraesa A. Coyle, and Michael H. Graham
Posted on: 8/01/2019 - Updated on: 2/28/2020

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Seaweeds are ecologically important primary producers, competitors, and ecosystem engineers that play a central role in coastal habitats ranging from kelp forests to coral reefs. Although seaweeds are known to be vulnerable to physical and chemical changes in the marine environment, the impacts of ongoing and future anthropogenic climate change in seaweed- dominated ecosystems remain poorly understood. In this review, we describe the ways in which changes in the environment directly affect seaweeds in terms of their physiology, growth, reproduction, and survival. We consider the extent to which seaweed species may be able to respond to these changes via adaptation or migration. We also examine the extensive reshuffling of communities that is occurring as the ecological balance between competing species changes, and as top-down control by herbivores becomes stronger or weaker. Finally, we delve into some of the ecosystem- level responses to these changes, including changes in primary productivity, diversity, and resilience. Although there are several key areas in which ecological insight is lacking, we suggest that reasonable climate-related hypotheses can be developed and tested based on current information. By strategically prioritizing research in the areas of complex environmental variation, multiple stressor effects, evolutionary adaptation, and population, community, and ecosystem-level responses, we can rapidly build upon our current understanding of seaweed biology and climate change ecology to more effectively conserve and manage coastal ecosystems.