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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 721:17-38 (2023)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14414

A geometric approach to understanding biological responses to environmental fluctuations from the perspective of marine organisms

Luis Giménez1,2,*

1School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, LL59 5AB Anglesey, UK
2Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Biologische Anstalt Helgoland, 27498 Helgoland, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: A main concern in marine ecology is understanding the mechanisms driving the responses of biological systems to environmental fluctuations. A major issue is that each biological system (e.g. organism, ecosystem) experiences fluctuations according to its own intrinsic characteristics. For instance, how an organism experiences a thermal fluctuation, i.e. as a long marine heatwave or as a mild pulse, depends on its thermal tolerance and developmental time, which can vary as the fluctuation is experienced. Here, a geometric approach is explored, considering the biological perspective. Environmental fluctuations are represented as points in a ‘space of fluctuations’. The biological perspective is then defined as a coordinate frame within that space. Coordinates are given by components (e.g. amplitude and time scale) characterising each environmental fluctuation, which are then transformed into biological scales, using biological traits (tolerance and biological time). Using simulations of organisms growing under thermal fluctuations with different characteristics, the present study shows how this approach (1) enables the integration of physiology and phenology to better interpret biological responses to fluctuating environments; (2) improves our understanding of the role of adaptive plasticity as a rescue effect; and (3) facilitates our understanding of the effects of thermal fluctuations on additional organismal traits (e.g. body mass). Wider applications in the context of species persistence, coexistence, biodiversity and ecosystem function in scenarios of extreme fluctuations are also discussed.


KEY WORDS: Fluctuating environments · Marine heatwaves · Thermal tolerance · Phenotypic plasticity · Acclimation · Phenology · Multiple stressors


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Cite this article as: Giménez L (2023) A geometric approach to understanding biological responses to environmental fluctuations from the perspective of marine organisms. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 721:17-38. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14414

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