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Climate-driven synchrony of marine and terrestrial ecosystems in Australia

Joyce Ong, Jessica Meeuwig | Mar 11, 2016

Joyce Ong, Jessica Meeuwig

Mar 11, 2016

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Mangrove jack (Lutjanus argentimaculatus) may be at threat from climate change.

Photo: WA Department of Fisheries.

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CITATION

Ong J, Rountrey A, Zinke J, Meeuwig J, Grierson P, O’Donnell A, Newman S, Lough J, Trougan M, Meekan M. 2016. Evidence for climate-driven synchrony of marine and terrestrial ecosystems in northwest Australia. Global Change Biology, 11. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13239

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Four taxa (two fish species, one coral species, and one tree species) showed evidence of climate-driven synchrony in growth at inter-annual time scales in northwest Australia.
  • Annual growth of these four taxa was influenced by rainfall, sea surface temperatures and sea surface salinities, which are linked to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) system.
  • All four taxa had positive growth patterns occurring during strong La Niña years.
  • Changes in the strength and frequency of ENSO events have major consequences for both marine and terrestrial taxa.

ABSTRACT

The effects of climate change are difficult to predict for many marine species because little is known of their response to climate variations in the past. However, long-term chronologies of growth, a variable that integrates multiple physical and biological factors, are now available for several marine taxa. These allow us to search for climate-driven synchrony in growth across multiple taxa and ecosystems, identifying the key processes driving biological responses at very large spatial scales. We hypothesized that in northwest (NW) Australia, a region that is predicted to be strongly influenced by climate change, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon would be an important factor influencing the growth patterns of organisms in both marine and terrestrial environments. To test this idea, we analysed existing growth chronologies of the marine fish Lutjanus argentimaculatus, the coral Porites spp. and the tree Callitris columellaris and developed a new chronology for another marine fish, Lethrinus nebulosus. Principal components analysis and linear model selection showed evidence of ENSO-driven synchrony in growth among all four taxa at inter-annual time scales, the first such result for the Southern Hemisphere. Rainfall, sea surface temperatures and sea surface salinities, which are linked to the ENSO system, influenced the annual growth of fishes, trees and corals. All four taxa had negative relationships with the Niño-4 index (a measure of ENSO status), with positive growth patterns occurring during strong La Niña years. This finding implies that future changes in the strength and frequency of ENSO events are likely to have major consequences for both marine and terrestrial taxa. Strong similarities in the growth patterns of fish and trees offer the possibility of using tree-ring chronologies, which span longer time periods than those of fish, to aid understanding of both historical and future responses of fish populations to climate variation.

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CROSS-TAXA SYNCHRONY

The growth bands found in fish, trees and corals show strongly similar patterns. Photo credits: J Ong and A O’Donnell from UWA, J Lough from AIMS.

FUNDING & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This work was funded by the Australian National Network in Marine Science and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Joyce Ong was supported by a scholarship from the Australian Postgraduate Awards. JZ was supported by a UWA/AIMS/CSIRO fellowship and a Curtin Senior Research Fellowship. The authors acknowledge the facilities, and the scientific and technical assistance of the Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility at the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation & Analysis, the University of Western Australia, a facility funded by the University, State and Commonwealth Governments. In particular, we would like to thank Professor Paul Rigby and Miss Alysia Buckley for the help and advice they have provided