MEPS 583:35-47 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12358

Assessing the consequences of environmental impacts: variation in species responses has unpredictable functional effects

Fiona Murray1,3,*, Stephen Widdicombe2, C. Louise McNeill2, Alex Douglas

1Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Zoology Building, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK
2Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place, West Hoe, Plymouth PL1 3DH, UK
3Present address: School of Geosciences, The Grant Institute, University of Edinburgh, King’s Buildings, James Hutton Road, Edinburgh EH9 3FE, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Many biological processes underpin ecosystem functioning and health. Determining changes in these processes following disturbance is crucial in assessing the wider impacts on ecosystem function and ultimately ecosystem services. Whilst the focus is often on whether disturbance drives changes in ecosystem function through mortality, sub-lethal effects on the physiology and behaviour of organisms may also have cascading effects on ecosystem processes, functions and services. In this mesocosm study, we investigated the effects of a severe short-term exposure (8 d) to a simulated environmental impact—a leak of a subsea geological CO2 capture and storage reservoir—on key biological processes (bioturbation), an ecosystem function (nutrient cycling) and on the functional group composition for 7 common benthic invertebrate species. We statistically allocated species to functional effect groups based on their measured functional effect relative to other species. Following exposure, we observed behavioural responses driving changes in bioturbation for several species and altered nutrient cycling. Responses were species specific and resulted in shifts in functional effect group composition for some key nutrients (nitrate and silicate). We show that the allocation of species to functional groups by measuring specified ecosystem processes and functions can change following environmental perturbations. This implies that whilst biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are intricately linked, maintaining species identities and abundances after environmental perturbation is no guarantee to maintaining ecosystem functions, as species alter their rate and mode of activity following an environmental stress.


KEY WORDS: Benthic invertebrates · Bioturbation · Carbon dioxide capture and storage · CCS · Ecosystem function · Functional diversity · Functional groups · Ocean acidification


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Cite this article as: Murray F, Widdicombe S, McNeill CL, Douglas A (2017) Assessing the consequences of environmental impacts: variation in species responses has unpredictable functional effects. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 583:35-47. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12358

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