Severe Continental-Scale Impacts of Climate Change Are Happening Now: Extreme Climate Events Impact Marine Habitat Forming Communities Along 45% of Australia's Coast

Russell C. Babcock, Rodrigo H. Bustamante, Elizabeth A. Fulton, Derek J. Fulton, Michael D. E. Haywood, Alistair James Hobday, Robert Kenyon, Richard James Matear, Eva E. Plaganyi, Anthony J. Richardson, Mathew A. Vanderklift

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Recent increases in the frequency of extreme climate events (ECEs) such as heatwaves and floods have been attributed to climate change, and could have pronounced ecosystem and evolutionary impacts because they provide little opportunity for organisms to acclimate or adapt. Here we synthesize information on a series of ECEs in Australia from 2011 to 2017 that led to well-documented, abrupt, and extensive mortality of key marine habitat-forming organisms - corals, kelps, seagrasses, and mangroves - along >45% of the continental coastline of Australia. Coral bleaching occurred across much of northern Australia due to marine heatwaves (MHWs) affecting different regions in 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2017, while seagrass was impacted by anomalously high rainfall events in 2011 on both east and west tropical coasts. A MHW off western Australia (WA) during the 2011 La Nina extended into temperate and subtropical regions, causing widespread mortality of kelp forests and seagrass communities at their northern distribution limits. Mangrove forests experienced high mortality during the 2016 El Nino across coastal areas of northern and north-WA due to severe water stress driven by drought and anomalously low mean sea levels. This series of ECEs reflects a variety of different events - MHWs, intense rainfall from tropical storms, and drought. Their repeated occurrence and wide extent are consistent with projections of increased frequency and intensity of ECEs and have broad implications elsewhere because similar trends are predicted globally. The unprecedented and widespread nature of these ECE impacts has likely produced substantial ecosystem-wide repercussions. Predictions from ecosystem models suggest that the widespread mortality of habitat-forming taxa will have long-term and in some cases irreversible consequences, especially if they continue to become more frequent or severe. The abrupt ecological changes that are caused by ECEs could have greater long-term impacts than slower warming that leads to gradual reorganization and possible evolution and adaptation. ECEs are an emerging threat to marine ecosystems, and will require better seasonal prediction and mitigation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number411
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2019

Cite this

Babcock, Russell C. ; Bustamante, Rodrigo H. ; Fulton, Elizabeth A. ; Fulton, Derek J. ; Haywood, Michael D. E. ; Hobday, Alistair James ; Kenyon, Robert ; Matear, Richard James ; Plaganyi, Eva E. ; Richardson, Anthony J. ; Vanderklift, Mathew A. / Severe Continental-Scale Impacts of Climate Change Are Happening Now : Extreme Climate Events Impact Marine Habitat Forming Communities Along 45% of Australia's Coast. In: Frontiers in Marine Science. 2019 ; Vol. 6.
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abstract = "Recent increases in the frequency of extreme climate events (ECEs) such as heatwaves and floods have been attributed to climate change, and could have pronounced ecosystem and evolutionary impacts because they provide little opportunity for organisms to acclimate or adapt. Here we synthesize information on a series of ECEs in Australia from 2011 to 2017 that led to well-documented, abrupt, and extensive mortality of key marine habitat-forming organisms - corals, kelps, seagrasses, and mangroves - along >45{\%} of the continental coastline of Australia. Coral bleaching occurred across much of northern Australia due to marine heatwaves (MHWs) affecting different regions in 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2017, while seagrass was impacted by anomalously high rainfall events in 2011 on both east and west tropical coasts. A MHW off western Australia (WA) during the 2011 La Nina extended into temperate and subtropical regions, causing widespread mortality of kelp forests and seagrass communities at their northern distribution limits. Mangrove forests experienced high mortality during the 2016 El Nino across coastal areas of northern and north-WA due to severe water stress driven by drought and anomalously low mean sea levels. This series of ECEs reflects a variety of different events - MHWs, intense rainfall from tropical storms, and drought. Their repeated occurrence and wide extent are consistent with projections of increased frequency and intensity of ECEs and have broad implications elsewhere because similar trends are predicted globally. The unprecedented and widespread nature of these ECE impacts has likely produced substantial ecosystem-wide repercussions. Predictions from ecosystem models suggest that the widespread mortality of habitat-forming taxa will have long-term and in some cases irreversible consequences, especially if they continue to become more frequent or severe. The abrupt ecological changes that are caused by ECEs could have greater long-term impacts than slower warming that leads to gradual reorganization and possible evolution and adaptation. ECEs are an emerging threat to marine ecosystems, and will require better seasonal prediction and mitigation strategies.",
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Severe Continental-Scale Impacts of Climate Change Are Happening Now : Extreme Climate Events Impact Marine Habitat Forming Communities Along 45% of Australia's Coast. / Babcock, Russell C.; Bustamante, Rodrigo H.; Fulton, Elizabeth A.; Fulton, Derek J.; Haywood, Michael D. E.; Hobday, Alistair James; Kenyon, Robert; Matear, Richard James; Plaganyi, Eva E.; Richardson, Anthony J.; Vanderklift, Mathew A.

In: Frontiers in Marine Science, Vol. 6, 411, 24.07.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

TY - JOUR

T1 - Severe Continental-Scale Impacts of Climate Change Are Happening Now

T2 - Extreme Climate Events Impact Marine Habitat Forming Communities Along 45% of Australia's Coast

AU - Babcock, Russell C.

AU - Bustamante, Rodrigo H.

AU - Fulton, Elizabeth A.

AU - Fulton, Derek J.

AU - Haywood, Michael D. E.

AU - Hobday, Alistair James

AU - Kenyon, Robert

AU - Matear, Richard James

AU - Plaganyi, Eva E.

AU - Richardson, Anthony J.

AU - Vanderklift, Mathew A.

PY - 2019/7/24

Y1 - 2019/7/24

N2 - Recent increases in the frequency of extreme climate events (ECEs) such as heatwaves and floods have been attributed to climate change, and could have pronounced ecosystem and evolutionary impacts because they provide little opportunity for organisms to acclimate or adapt. Here we synthesize information on a series of ECEs in Australia from 2011 to 2017 that led to well-documented, abrupt, and extensive mortality of key marine habitat-forming organisms - corals, kelps, seagrasses, and mangroves - along >45% of the continental coastline of Australia. Coral bleaching occurred across much of northern Australia due to marine heatwaves (MHWs) affecting different regions in 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2017, while seagrass was impacted by anomalously high rainfall events in 2011 on both east and west tropical coasts. A MHW off western Australia (WA) during the 2011 La Nina extended into temperate and subtropical regions, causing widespread mortality of kelp forests and seagrass communities at their northern distribution limits. Mangrove forests experienced high mortality during the 2016 El Nino across coastal areas of northern and north-WA due to severe water stress driven by drought and anomalously low mean sea levels. This series of ECEs reflects a variety of different events - MHWs, intense rainfall from tropical storms, and drought. Their repeated occurrence and wide extent are consistent with projections of increased frequency and intensity of ECEs and have broad implications elsewhere because similar trends are predicted globally. The unprecedented and widespread nature of these ECE impacts has likely produced substantial ecosystem-wide repercussions. Predictions from ecosystem models suggest that the widespread mortality of habitat-forming taxa will have long-term and in some cases irreversible consequences, especially if they continue to become more frequent or severe. The abrupt ecological changes that are caused by ECEs could have greater long-term impacts than slower warming that leads to gradual reorganization and possible evolution and adaptation. ECEs are an emerging threat to marine ecosystems, and will require better seasonal prediction and mitigation strategies.

AB - Recent increases in the frequency of extreme climate events (ECEs) such as heatwaves and floods have been attributed to climate change, and could have pronounced ecosystem and evolutionary impacts because they provide little opportunity for organisms to acclimate or adapt. Here we synthesize information on a series of ECEs in Australia from 2011 to 2017 that led to well-documented, abrupt, and extensive mortality of key marine habitat-forming organisms - corals, kelps, seagrasses, and mangroves - along >45% of the continental coastline of Australia. Coral bleaching occurred across much of northern Australia due to marine heatwaves (MHWs) affecting different regions in 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2017, while seagrass was impacted by anomalously high rainfall events in 2011 on both east and west tropical coasts. A MHW off western Australia (WA) during the 2011 La Nina extended into temperate and subtropical regions, causing widespread mortality of kelp forests and seagrass communities at their northern distribution limits. Mangrove forests experienced high mortality during the 2016 El Nino across coastal areas of northern and north-WA due to severe water stress driven by drought and anomalously low mean sea levels. This series of ECEs reflects a variety of different events - MHWs, intense rainfall from tropical storms, and drought. Their repeated occurrence and wide extent are consistent with projections of increased frequency and intensity of ECEs and have broad implications elsewhere because similar trends are predicted globally. The unprecedented and widespread nature of these ECE impacts has likely produced substantial ecosystem-wide repercussions. Predictions from ecosystem models suggest that the widespread mortality of habitat-forming taxa will have long-term and in some cases irreversible consequences, especially if they continue to become more frequent or severe. The abrupt ecological changes that are caused by ECEs could have greater long-term impacts than slower warming that leads to gradual reorganization and possible evolution and adaptation. ECEs are an emerging threat to marine ecosystems, and will require better seasonal prediction and mitigation strategies.

KW - extreme climate events

KW - kelp

KW - coral

KW - seagrass

KW - mangrove

KW - marine heat wave

KW - modeling

KW - ecosystem

KW - GREAT-BARRIER-REEF

KW - KELP FOREST ECOSYSTEMS

KW - HORIZON OIL-SPILL

KW - RANGE SHIFTS

KW - GLOBAL VALUE

KW - CORAL-REEFS

KW - RESPONSES

KW - HEAT

KW - TERRESTRIAL

KW - TEMPERATURE

U2 - 10.3389/fmars.2019.00411

DO - 10.3389/fmars.2019.00411

M3 - Article

VL - 6

JO - Frontiers in Marine Science

JF - Frontiers in Marine Science

SN - 2296-7745

M1 - 411

ER -