Non-Linear Interactions Determine the Impact of Sea-Level Rise on Estuarine Benthic Biodiversity and Ecosystem Processes

Tsuyuko Yamanaka, David Raffaelli, Piran C L White

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Sea-level rise induced by climate change may have significant impacts on the ecosystem functions and ecosystem services provided by intertidal sediment ecosystems. Accelerated sea-level rise is expected to lead to steeper beach slopes, coarser particle sizes and increased wave exposure, with consequent impacts on intertidal ecosystems. We examined the relationships between abundance, biomass, and community metabolism of benthic fauna with beach slope, particle size and exposure, using samples across a range of conditions from three different locations in the UK, to determine the significance of sediment particle size beach slope and wave exposure in affecting benthic fauna and ecosystem function in different ecological contexts. Our results show that abundance, biomass and oxygen consumption of intertidal macrofauna and meiofauna are affected significantly by interactions among sediment particle size, beach slope and wave exposure. For macrofauna on less sloping beaches, the effect of these physical constraints is mediated by the local context, although for meiofauna and for macrofauna on intermediate and steeper beaches, the effects of physical constraints dominate. Steeper beach slopes, coarser particle sizes and increased wave exposure generally result in decreases in abundance, biomass and oxygen consumption, but these relationships are complex and non-linear. Sea-level rise is likely to lead to changes in ecosystem structure with generally negative impacts on ecosystem functions and ecosystem services. However, the impacts of sea-level rise will also be affected by local ecological context, especially for less sloping beaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere68160
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2013

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