SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • Caribbean;
  • Great Barrier Reef;
  • habitat loss;
  • invasive species;
  • larvae;
  • ocean acidification;
  • reproduction;
  • salinity;
  • temperature;
  • tropical invertebrates

Abstract

Climate change is threatening tropical reefs across the world, with most scientists agreeing that the current changes in climate conditions are occurring at a much faster rate than in the past and are potentially beyond the capacity of reefs to adapt and recover. Current research in tropical ecosystems focuses largely on corals and fishes, although other benthic marine invertebrates provide crucial services to reef systems, with roles in nutrient cycling, water quality regulation, and herbivory. We review available information on the effects of environmental conditions associated with climate change on noncoral tropical benthic invertebrates, including inferences from modern and fossil records. Increasing sea surface temperatures may decrease survivorship and increase the developmental rate, as well as alter the timing of gonad development, spawning, and food availability. The broad latitudinal distribution and associated temperature ranges of several pantropical taxa suggest that some reef communities may have an in-built adaptive capacity. Tropical benthic invertebrates will also show species-specific sublethal and lethal responses to sea-level rise, ocean acidification, physical disturbance, runoff, turbidity, sedimentation, and changes in ocean circulation. In order to accurately predict a species' response to these stressors, we must consider the magnitude and duration of exposure to each stressor, as well as the physiology, mobility, and habitat requirements of the species. Stressors will not act independently, and many organisms will be exposed to multiple stressors concurrently, including anthropogenic stressors. Environmental changes associated with climate change are linked to larger ecological processes, including changes in larval dispersal and recruitment success, shifts in community structure and range extensions, and the establishment and spread of invasive species. Loss of some species will trigger economic losses and negative effects on ecosystem function. Our review is intended to create a framework with which to predict the vulnerability of benthic invertebrates to the stressors associated with climate change, as well as their adaptive capacity. We anticipate that this review will assist scientists, managers, and policy-makers to better develop and implement regional research and management strategies, based on observed and predicted changes in environmental conditions.