What is it about?

Recovery of the biota of rocky shores after losses from major perturbations such as marine heat waves has slowed through time, and become more variable, showing a higher frequency of extremes, raising concerns about potential catastrophic shifts to a lower diversity ecosystem.

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Why is it important?

These changes can all be attributed to climate change, specifically, warming impacts on ecological communities. This was a surprise because superficially these systems appeared stable, showing little evidence of change for decades. By testing the ability of the community to recover from losses likely to occur from severe temperature stresses, we found that the dynamics underlying the apparent stability of the system are worsening. Such insights are more difficult to obtain in many other ecosystems, where dominant organisms (e.g., trees) live a long time and require much lengthier times of investigation than is possible on rocky shores. Thus, this paper may offer a window into what the future holds more generally for Earth's biota.


As one who has researched rocky shores for decades, these results were a shock, and very distressing. Although it is possible that the changes observed may reverse, I think such reversals are likely to be short-lived simply because the planet continues to warm towards increasingly dangerous and destructive levels. This study could serve as a metaphor for changes occurring now and to come for humans. That is, with climate change, the health of our biosphere will continue to decline, we will continue to see higher frequencies of extremes in weather, and potentially face a catastrophic shift to a much less desirable lifestyle. We must act immediately to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, and reverse climate change.

Professor Bruce Menge
Oregon State University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Increasing instability of a rocky intertidal meta-ecosystem, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2114257119.
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