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Keywords:

  • Climate change;
  • meta-analysis;
  • multiple stressors;
  • ocean acidification;
  • ocean warming;
  • synergistic interactions

Abstract

Ocean acidification and warming are considered two of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity, yet the combined effect of these stressors on marine organisms remains largely unclear. Using a meta-analytical approach, we assessed the biological responses of marine organisms to the effects of ocean acidification and warming in isolation and combination. As expected biological responses varied across taxonomic groups, life-history stages, and trophic levels, but importantly, combining stressors generally exhibited a stronger biological (either positive or negative) effect. Using a subset of orthogonal studies, we show that four of five of the biological responses measured (calcification, photosynthesis, reproduction, and survival, but not growth) interacted synergistically when warming and acidification were combined. The observed synergisms between interacting stressors suggest that care must be made in making inferences from single-stressor studies. Our findings clearly have implications for the development of adaptive management strategies particularly given that the frequency of stressors interacting in marine systems will be likely to intensify in the future. There is now an urgent need to move toward more robust, holistic, and ecologically realistic climate change experiments that incorporate interactions. Without them accurate predictions about the likely deleterious impacts to marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning over the next century will not be possible.