Project: Algal Communities in Distress: Impacts and Consequences
Start date: 2011-04
End date: 2014-03
Geolocation: US West Coast; North bounding latitude: 45.00N, South bounding latitude: 38.00N
Collaborative Research: The role of calcifying algae as a determinant of rocky intertidal macrophyte community structure at a meta-ecosystem scale
Environmental stress models have recently been modified to incorporate the influence of facilitation to join negative effects such as predation, competition, and abiotic stress as determinants of community structure. Nevertheless, our empirical understanding of the processes that regulate the expression of facilitation effects across systems and the potential for facilitation to amplify or dampen the ecological consequences of climate change remains limited. This project focuses on facilitation dynamics in the broader meta-ecosystem concept, which hypothesizes that variation among communities depends not only on locally-varying species interactions and impacts of abiotic factors such as environmental stress and physical disturbance but also on regionally- and globally-varying ecosystem processes such as dispersal and flows of materials such as nutrients and carbon. The investigators will study the influence of a potentially critical facilitative interaction between coralline algal turfs and canopy-forming macrophytes including kelps and surfgrass in a rocky intertidal meta-ecosystem. The research will be conducted in a climate change context, with a focus on how the macrophyte-coralline interaction is influenced by ocean conditions, including factors driven by variable upwelling (temperature, nutrients, phytoplankton abundance, and light) and increases in ocean acidification, which vary in a mosaic pattern along the coast of the northern California Current (NCC) in Oregon and northern California.
The goal of the project is to test the hypothesis that the coralline turf-macrophyte canopy interaction is a cardinal interaction in the determination of low rocky intertidal community structure, and that disruption of this interaction would dramatically alter the structure and function of this kelp- and surfgrass-dominated assemblage. The project will take advantage of, and enhance, a research platform established across 17 sites spanning ~800 km in the NCC coastal meta-ecosystem with prior NSF funding that will at each site: (1) quantify ocean conditions, including temperature, nutrients, phytoplankton, light (PAR), and carbonate chemistry to document the response of community structure oceanographic variation across a meta ecosystem mosaic; (2) carry out field experiments testing the nature of the interaction between coralline algal turfs (primarily Corallina vancouveriensis) and dominant canopy species, the kelp Saccharina sessile and the surfgrass Phyllospadix scouleri; and (3) carry out laboratory experiments focusing on the mechanism of the interaction, specifically testing the effects of carbonate chemistry, light, temperature, and nutrients. Component (1) will employ both remote sensors deployed in the intertidal (fluorometers, thermal sensors, PAR sensors, and a recently developed pH sensor) and direct sampling (nutrients, phytoplankton, pCO2, and pH) to quantify the in situ exposure regime of benthic primary producers to resources, energy, and environmental stress across spatial scales. These metrics will be combined with a newly developed index for quantifying local-scale variation in upwelling intensity to characterize the linkages between climate forcing and ecosystem state. Coupling oceanography with our field and laboratory experiments will provide unique and valuable insights into how the current state of rocky intertidal ecosystems is likely to be altered in the future.
Intellectual Merit. The project will contribute one of the first studies to test the community consequences of varying upwelling and CO2 across an ecosystem scale. How these factors alter the direct and indirect interactions of key species is of fundamental importance in our efforts to learn how field ecosystems will respond to climate change. Such knowledge is crucial to our efforts to manage and conserve marine communities facing human-induced variation in climate.
Additional Project Information