Complex interactions among stressors evolve over time to drive shifts from short turfs to macroalgae on tropical reefs.


Fong, C. R.Gaynus, C. J.Carpenter, R. C.




Multiple stressors acting simultaneously on ecological communities are the new normal state. Stressor number and strength will increase with rising anthropogenic activity, making it critical to understand both stressor effects and interactions. Stressor temporal regimes vary in intensity, frequency, and duration, ranging from press to pulse. While stressors with different temporal regimes likely have divergent effects, this remains mostly unexplored, though there is some evidence communities are more resistant to pulse than press stressors. Coral reefs are among the most impacted marine communities, and degradation from coral to algal dominance has been attributed to increases in both local and global stressors. Overfishing, nutrient pollution, and increased sedimentation are all local stressors that have been implicated in shift dynamics. Nutrients and sediments are anthropogenically derived stressors to reefs that can have press and pulse temporal regimes.We conducted a 6-month fully crossed factorial field experiment on algal turf communities in Moorea, French Polynesia, manipulating access by herbivores, enrichment regime, and sedimentation regime and tracked changes in benthic community composition. We found complex interactions among stressors and stressor regimes drove a series of transitions from healthy, short algal turf communities to degraded, long algal turfs, and ultimately to macroalgal-dominated communities. While herbivory controlled final community composition after 6 months, 2- and 3-way interactions among nutrient and sediment temporal stressor regimes over time drove transition dynamics, and matching of stressor temporal regimes accelerated shifts. Some stressors cryptically eroded the resilience of the community, which was only evident when the strong ecological processes that masked these effects were disrupted. Our research highlights the need to consider temporal stressor regime as well as stressor interactions, particularly in light of predicted increases in both local and global stressors and alterations to stressor temporal regimes. Our understanding of the impacts of local stressor temporal regimes is in its infancy. Here, we provide a novel demonstration that the effects of stressor temporal regime varied and multiple stressors interacted to exhibit complex, emergent interaction effects, demonstrating the need to explicitly contrast stressor temporal regimes under multiple conditions to understand how communities will respond to future challenges.







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Journal Article

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