Rising tides, cumulative impacts and cascading changes to estuarine ecosystem functions

Scientific Reports. 2017;7(1):1-7 DOI 10.1038/s41598-017-11058-7


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Scientific Reports

ISSN: 2045-2322 (Online)

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group

LCC Subject Category: Medicine | Science

Country of publisher: United Kingdom

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML



Theresa A. O’Meara (Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland)

Jenny R. Hillman (Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland)

Simon F. Thrush (Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland)


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 20 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

Abstract In coastal ecosystems, climate change affects multiple environmental factors, yet most predictive models are based on simple cause-and-effect relationships. Multiple stressor scenarios are difficult to predict because they can create a ripple effect through networked ecosystem functions. Estuarine ecosystem function relies on an interconnected network of physical and biological processes. Estuarine habitats play critical roles in service provision and represent global hotspots for organic matter processing, nutrient cycling and primary production. Within these systems, we predicted functional changes in the impacts of land-based stressors, mediated by changing light climate and sediment permeability. Our in-situ field experiment manipulated sea level, nutrient supply, and mud content. We used these stressors to determine how interacting environmental stressors influence ecosystem function and compared results with data collected along elevation gradients to substitute space for time. We show non-linear, multi-stressor effects deconstruct networks governing ecosystem function. Sea level rise altered nutrient processing and impacted broader estuarine services ameliorating nutrient and sediment pollution. Our experiment demonstrates how the relationships between nutrient processing and biological/physical controls degrade with environmental stress. Our results emphasise the importance of moving beyond simple physically-forced relationships to assess consequences of climate change in the context of ecosystem interactions and multiple stressors.