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Sci Rep 2020 Jul 09;101:11272. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-67962-y.
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More severe disturbance regimes drive the shift of a kelp forest to a sea urchin barren in south-eastern Australia.

Carnell PE , Keough MJ .

Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of extreme events. This means that systems are experiencing novel or altered disturbance regimes, making it difficult to predict and manage for this impact on ecosystems. While there is established theory regarding how the frequency of disturbance influences ecosystems, how this interacts with severity of disturbance is difficult to tease apart, as these two are inherently linked. Here we investigated a subtidal kelp (Ecklonia radiata) dominated community in southern Australia to assess how different disturbance regimes might drive changes to a different ecosystem state: sea urchin barrens. Specifically, we compared how the frequency of disturbance (single or triple disturbance events over a three month period) influenced recruitment and community dynamics, when the net severity of disturbance was the same (single disturbance compared to triple disturbances each one-third as severe). We crossed this design with two different net severities of disturbance (50% or 100%, kelp canopy removal). The frequency of disturbance effect depended on the severity of disturbance. When 50% of the canopy was removed, the highest kelp recruitment and recovery of the benthic community occurred with the triple disturbance events. When disturbance was a single event or the most severe (100% removal), kelp recruitment was low and the kelp canopy failed to recover over 18 months. The latter case led to shifts in the community composition from a kelp bed to a sea-urchin barren. This suggests that if ecosystems experience novel or more severe disturbance scenarios, this can lead to a decline in ecosystem condition or collapse.

PubMed ID: 32647344
PMC ID: PMC7347924
Article link: Sci Rep

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