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Type: Thesis
Title: [EMBARGOED] Response of temperate marine food webs to climate change and ocean acidification: bridging the gap between experimental manipulation and complex foodwebs
Author: Ullah, Md Hadayet
Issue Date: 2018
School/Discipline: School of Biological Sciences
Abstract: Global warming and ocean acidification are forecast to exert significant impacts on marine ecosystems, while intensive exploitation of commercial marine species has already caused large-scale reorganizations of biological communities in many of the world’s marine ecosystems. Whilst our understanding on the impact of warming and acidification in isolation on individual species has steadily increased, we still know little on the combined effect of these two global stressors on marine food webs, especially under realistic experimental settings or real-world systems. We particularly lack evidence of how the top of the food web (piscivores and apex predators) will respond to future climate change (ocean warming and acidification) because responses of ecological communities could vary with increasing trophic level. The picture is further complicated by the interaction of global and local stressors that affect our oceans, such as fishing pressure. Accurate predictions of the potential effects of these global and local stressors at ecosystem-levels require a comprehensive understanding of how entire communities of species respond to climate change. Mechanistic insights revealed by a combination of different approaches such as experimental manipulation of food webs, and integrated with ecosystem modelling approaches provide a way forward to improve our understanding of the functioning of future food webs. In this thesis, I show how the combined effect of such global and local stressors could affect a three trophic level temperate marine mesocosm food web and how these outcomes could be translated to predict the response of ecological communities in a four trophic level natural food web. Using a sophisticated mesocosm experiment (elevated pCO2 of approximately 900 ppm and warming of +2.8°C), I first modelled how energy fluxes are likely to change in marine food webs in response to future climate. I experimentally show that the combined stress of acidification and warming could reduce energy flows from the first trophic level (primary producers and detritus) to the second (herbivores) and from the second to the third trophic level (carnivores). Although warming and acidification jointly boosted primary producer biomass, most of it was constrained to the base of the food web as consumers were unable to transfer unpalatable cyanobacterial production up the food web. In contrast, ocean acidification affected the food web positively by increasing the biomass from producers to carnivores. I then developed a unique approach that combines the empirical data on species response to climate change from our mesocosms experiments with historical population data (fisheries biomass and catch data) to predict future changes in a natural food web. I incorporated physiological and behavioural responses (complex species-interactions) of species from primary producers to top predators such as sharks within a time-dynamic integrated ecosystem modelling approach (Ecosim). I show that under continuation of the present-day fishing regime, warming and ocean acidification will benefit most of the higher trophic level community groups (e.g. mammals, birds, demersal finfish). The positive effects of warming and acidification in isolation will likely be reduced under their combined effect (antagonistic interaction) which is likely to be further negated under increased fishing pressure, decreasing the individual biomass of consumers. The total future fisheries biomass, however, will likely still remain high compared to the present-day scenario. This is because unharvested species in present day fishery will likely benefit from decreased competition and an increase in biomass. Nevertheless, ecological indicator such as the Shannon diversity index suggests a trade-off between biomass gain and loss of functional diversity within food webs. The mechanisms behind the increase in biomass at higher trophic level consumers and a decrease in the biomass of lower trophic levels is mostly driven by the increasing top down control by consumers on their prey through increasing trophic interaction strength and a positive response of some of the prey groups under warming irrespective of acidification. I show that in a future food web, temperature-driven changes in direct trophic interactions strength (feeding and competition) will largely determine the direction of biomass change (increase or decrease) of consumers due to higher mean interaction strength (magnitude of change). In contrast, although acidification induces a relatively small increase in trophic interaction strength it shows a much larger change in the percent interactions altered for indirect interactions. Hence, ocean acidification is likely to propagate boosted primary consumer biomass to higher trophic levels. The findings of this thesis reveal that warming in combination with acidification can increase trophic interaction strengths (top down control), resulting in a reorganization of community biomass structure by reducing or increasing the biomass of resources and consumers and a loss of functional diversity within the food web. Also, the degree to which warming and acidification will be beneficial or detrimental to functional groups in future food webs will largely depend on how interaction strengths affects individual consumers or resource groups due to multi-trophic species interaction, the availability of prey resources and the complexity of the food web considered (e.g. three or four trophic level and more diverse ecological communities).
Advisor: Nagelkerken, Ivan
Fordham, Damien
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Biological Sciences, 2018
Keywords: Global warming
ocean acidification
food web
trophic flow
trophic interaction strengths
Provenance: This thesis is currently under Embargo and not available.
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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